If the Sundance Institute or the AFI ever offers a course advising directors of successful first films what to avoid the second time around, "Mallrats" could be at the heart of the curriculum.
Written and directed by the talented Kevin Smith, whose ultra-low-budget "Clerks" was an exuberant and anarchic delight, "Mallrats" is a numbing and dispiriting experience aimed at the least discriminating parts of the teen-age audience. The only reason anyone old enough to vote might want to attend is to learn from someone else's experience what mistakes not to make.
Lesson One: Don't repeat yourself. Magic is not going to strike twice. Though having random folks hanging out at a convenience store was hilarious in "Clerks," having random folks hanging out in a suburban mall feels false, contrived and nowhere near as clever.
Lesson Two: Don't go out with a slapdash script. An afternoon spent at that mall by two pals who are dumped by their girlfriends may arguably be enough to base a movie on, but this picture's forced and unfocused dialogue sinks "Mallrats" like a stone.
For the record, Rene (Shannen Doherty) has broken up with Brodie (Jason Lee) because he spends too much time with his comic book collection and his Sega games. And Brandi (Claire Forlani) has split with T.S. (Jeremy London) because he can't understand why she has to be a contestant on her dad's "Truth or Date" TV game show. Or something.
Lesson Three: Don't think the addition of the name star you can now afford is going to help you out. Shannen Doherty of "Beverly Hills, 90210" does as adequate a job as anyone else in this unchallenged cast, but her presence can in no way rescue a film that has forgotten Lessons One and Two.
Lesson Four: Don't assume bathroom humor is cool. Yes, Jim Carrey made millions for all concerned with that particular brand of juvenalia, but Carrey is not in this movie and running jokes about bodily functions are not automatically winning if you're old enough to cross the street by yourself.
Lesson Five: Don't count on the good feelings generated by your first film to carry over to your second. At one advance screening of "Mallrats," the most frequently overheard conversation was those who'd seen "Clerks" desperately trying to convince those who hadn't that it really was a movie worth watching.
About the only thing to survive from "Clerks" are the characters of Silent Bob (played by Smith himself) and his sidekick Jay (Jason Mewes), and even they have lost a good deal of their comic effectiveness. When this film ends with the on-screen notice that "Jay and Silent Bob will return in 'Chasing Amy,' " it feels more like a warning than a prediction.
* MPAA rating: R, for strong language, including sexual dialogue, and for some scenes of sexuality and drug content. Times guidelines: some pointless nudity and infantile bathroom humor.
Shannen Doherty: Rene
Jeremy London: T.S.
Jason Lee: Brodie
Claire Forlani: Brandi
Ben Affleck: Shannon
Joey Lauren Adams: Gwen
Renee Humphrey: Tricia
An Alphaville in association with View Askew Productions production, released by Gramercy Pictures. Director Kevin Smith. Producers James Jacks, Sean Daniels, Scott Mosier. Screenplay Kevin Smith. Cinematographer David Klein. Editor Paul Dixon. Costumes Dana Allyson. Music Ira Newborn. Production design Dina Lipton. Art director Sue Savage. Set decorator Diana Stoughton. Running time: 1 hour, 37 minutes.
* In general release throughout Southern California.