It’s 2 a.m. and you awake with a jerk, alone in your fully lit apartment and still on the couch. On TV, the credits of some movie you’ve already seen a billion times are scrolling by. It feels like rock bottom. And we know, because we’re just like you: single.
Need a movie to keep you company until you literally can’t keep your eyes open? Join us tonight when we pass out to Mallrats [starting @ 2:35 a.m. on HBO Zone]
Why we’ll try to stay up and watch it: In the past 10 years, has there been any director who has seen his reputation age worse than Kevin Smith? Running down his filmography—which, at one point, was surely filled with titles that you considered awesome—is like leafing through a bunch of old photographs from high school; it will invariably lead to pangs of embarrassment, regret and confusion. Even the ostensibly “good” movies—Chasing Amy, Dogma and, yes, Clerks—aren’t actually that good; amateurish and smug, too full of their own agendas to actually hold up to intense, multi-viewing, scrutiny. Perhaps then that’s why we still consider Mallrats to be Mr. Smith’s crowning achievement. It was never meant to be anything other than a stupid comedy, and it hits that goal with great accuracy.
Released in 1995 by Universal Studios (under their now-defunct Gramercy banner), Mallrats was castigated by film critics and ignored by audiences; witness the paltry $2.1 million total gross at the box office. Mr. Smith’s first post-Clerks film—a studio film, no less—was so reviled that the director even apologized for making it at the Independent Spirit Awards the following year. But a funny thing about all that: Mallrats is hilarious. Oh, sure, it’s a sloppy mess—a 10th anniversary DVD release features an extended cut that includes nearly an hour’s worth of excised footage—but we’d venture to say Mr. Smith has never made a film so alive and vibrant.
Most of that has to do with the casting, Mr. Smith’s strongest suit as a filmmaker. Putting aside Jeremy London—an actor so wooden he makes his brother Jason seem like a graduate from the Actor’s Studio—the rest of the cast (Ben Affleck, Joey Lauren Adams and Michael Rooker among them) is loaded for bear, specifically Jason Lee. It might be hard to believe, especially in the wake of the painfully unfunny My Name is Earl, but Mr. Lee used to be hysterical. As Mr. Smith’s onscreen alter ego, Brodie (yep, that’s a Jaws reference; Mr. London’s character is named T.S. Quint), Mr. Lee is caustic, furious, biting and altogether brilliant. He was an angry geek before angry geeks even existed.
When we’ll probably fall asleep: Despite Mallrats being a wonderfully short film—the entire thing runs just over 90 minutes—we’ll clock out fairly early on if only because this thing is starting so damn late. Jeez! So we’ll make it until 3 a.m., 25 minutes into the film, when Brodie and Quint get into a shoving match with a couple of comic-book nerds waiting outside a store to get Stan Lee’s autograph—the Spider-man creator makes an appearance later, reading cue cards like Christopher Walken on Saturday Night Live—which culminates with Brodie uttering the immortal line: “You think just ’cause a guy reads comics, he can’t start some shit?” And with that, a generation of geeks found their battle cry.