The film has a name star and a far bigger budget than Clerks, but the only significant difference that comes with the change of setting is that, this time, the two heroes aren't even pulling down minimum wage for their idleness.
Smith's blessing as a low-budget filmmaker is that the silly bantering of lovesick scruffies is the very heart of his vision. It's what he wants to hear, and it's what he wants us to hear. Clerks had little to do with convenience retail, nor does Mallrats have very much to do with (oxymoron alert!) mall culture. That's the beauty of these settings--essentially, they are bright, plasticized nowheres, existential landscapes at which people nonetheless do gather and interact.
Thus, they serve perfectly as backdrops to slacker prattle. When Smith cuts from one scene of people talking to another scene of people talking elsewhere, you can practically hear the classic stage direction "Another part of the forest."
T.S. (Jeremy London of Dazed and Confused) and Brodie (Jason Lee) are two nice young men who have nothing better to do with their time than poke around the mall where their girlfriends work and shop. Ex-girlfriends, that is--both of the boys have been dumped, and their bitterness knows no bounds, even though it's largely their fault in both cases.
T.S. and his beloved (Claire Forlani) have come to grief because she has capitulated to the demand of her odious father (Michael Rooker of Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer), a would-be game-show producer. He wants her to serve as a contestant on the live tryout of his Dating Game knockoff. The threatened T.S. freaks out about the situation to the point that the girlfriend can no longer stand it.
Brodie's girl (Shannen Doherty) has dumped him for the less complicated reason that he's a moody, shiftless comic-book nut of exhausting selfishness and stunted libido. She's now dating the loathsome manager (Casey Affleck) of a men's store, a handsome, well-groomed, well-dressed, employed guy--in short, a symbol of all that Brodie despises, and rightly so, in this case.
Along with the schemes and maneuverings of T.S. and Brodie to win back their respective ladies fair, the plot features a third, more broadly slapstick, strand, involving two characters brought in from Clerks. Jay (Jason Mewes), a trash-talking small-time dope dealer, and his aptly nicknamed sidekick Silent Bob, played by the heavyset, bearded Smith himself, have Wile E. Coyote misadventures.
There is also crude scatological humor, and a prurient but funny interlude at a swap mart, to which T.S. and Brodie go to consult with a "topless fortuneteller" (Priscilla Barnes) who claims her prescience comes from having two nipples on her right breast. There's a good running bit involving those pictures that supposedly become clear when you stare at them long enough. To top it all off, legendary Marvel Comics publisher Stan Lee turns up for a sage cameo as himself.
It would be a disservice to Smith to say he's brilliant--few brilliant artists can give you as relaxed a good time as a goofball like Smith can. Clerks is one of those low-budget films--The Brothers McMullen is another--which, though good, are overrated because of the resourcefulness with which they are made.
Mallrats is, in some ways, pretty amateurish, in its more visual sequences especially. And even the dialogue isn't all sterling. There's nothing that approaches the verbal jazz of the monologue in Clerks about the subcontractors on the Death Star. There are moments, however--like Brodie's analysis of the problem of "spooning" with one's bedmate--that come close. But Mallrats has absolutely no aspiration except to be funny, so, for me, at least, it can't be considered a failure.
Doherty receives star billing, although her role is quite small. She's also quite dreadful--in her big scene, her delivery is very nearly unintelligible. Yet somehow this doesn't hurt the film. Her flushed, saucy prettiness is all that was required of her. She looks exactly like a woman that some silly mallrat would be mooning over.
Mallrats: Directed by Kevin Smith; with Shannen Doherty, Jason Lee, Jeremy London, Claire Forlani and Jason Mewes. Rated