Long before he became the face of nerd fandom commentary, Kevin Smith was a young up and coming director with a flair for vulgarity. His low budget breakout “Clerks” taught me taboo phrases and words I didn’t even know existed. Unlike its predecessor, “Mallrats” is arguably Smith’s most balanced film in his entire catalog.
Though a box office failure and critically panned at the time of its release, it has grown to become a cult classic. The film has to be reviewed within the scope of the Smith’s filmography as a whole rather than on its own individual merits. That’s not to say the film can’t hold up on its own, but with each film added to universe, they are inexplicably tied to the others for context and purpose. Though not the best of the View Askewverse, “Mallrats” is the most telling of Smith’s ability to tell heartfelt stories about clueless slackers with unabashed vulgarity.
“Mallrats” follows two friends- T.S. and Brodie -who both experience recent breakups and decide a trip the mall will help them find some comfort. Unfortunately, everything they are trying to avoid end up following them to the mall, and of course, hijinks ensue. As problems arise, their solutions only seem to bring more trouble, and they must navigate through a series of unfortunate events and discover what really matters to them. There is obviously much more to the story. Much of it includes a sailboat in magic eye poster, Jay and Silent Bob assaulting an Easter Bunny, and topless fortune teller, and of course, a young, fat, tool of a man Ben Affleck.
Much like “Clerks,” “Mallrats” is a collection of stories and hijinks loosely connected by an over arching narrative. The difference here is the story is far more linear and leans into the character development of our protagonists. If “Clerks” is an overload of taboo and “Chasing Amy” is too serious for its own good, “Mallrats” falls somewhere in the middle. It throttles down the crass mouth of Randall which turning up the naivety of Dante, placing it right between the two aforementioned films in more than just release order.
For all its outlandish scenarios, “Mallrats” grounds its protagonists. Both T.S and Brodie feel like real, average dudes with big dreams and no clue what to do with real life. It is a classic 90s coming of age store through a Kevin Smith lens, something that actually stands the test of time and proves its longevity of endearment among fans.
“Mallrats” also ups the ante in its casting, bringing on a number up and coming names to round out some of his favorites. Interestingly enough, most of them end up reprising a number of their roles in latter films, especially as Smith continually sought to connect most of his earlier work up until and including “Clerks II.” Actors like Jason Lee (Brodie), Ben Affleck (Shannon), Joey Lauren Adams (Gwen) and Ethan Suplee (William) all reprise numerous roles in latter films.
A fun little tidbit I learned while writing this: Did you know Ethan Suplee voiced the Golgothan in “Dogma?” It has no bearing on “Mallrats,” but I refuse to be the only cursed with knowledge. Everyone is good here, even Ben Affleck who is easily the most despicable he’s ever been (on purpose). This film also gives a bit more screen time to the beloved duo Jay and Silent Bob, who eventually become the linchpin for all films in the universe.
Like so many of Kevin Smith’s films, you’re either in or out. It’s almost impossible to be lukewarm on a film in the View Askewverse, which is perhaps why it so difficult to review this as a standalone film. To be fair, it is. Even if it is loosely tied to all of the other films, it does tell a singular, contained story that does have a satisfying conclusion. But this flick represents Smith’s vision for film as a whole and demonstrates what a filmmaker can do when given the opportunity to let loose.
Sure, there was clearly some studio meddling, as it is toned down from “Clerks” to be more palatable for general audiences. But despite this, it never loses its moniker of a Kevin Smith Film. If “Clerks” is the crassest, and “Dogma” is the most irreverent- “Mallrats” falls somewhere in a balanced middle ground of it all.
If you’re a fan of the Jay and Silent Bob vehicles, “Mallrats” is most certainly an enjoyable classic with plenty of re-watchability. If you’re not a fan, then the film won’t really do anything to win you over. Packed with comic references and Smithisms, this is a great film for fans of it, and will have you shouting “fly, fatass, fly” after every viewing.
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
While it’s out of stock on Amazon right now, you can order your Blu-ray copy of “Mallrats” here.
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