Though director Kevin Smith described its script as “136 pages of dick jokes,” Clerks is a metaphysical study of youthful alienation. The tale of two surly cash-register jockeys at a second-rate convenience store in suburban New Jersey, it explores the cosmology of proletariat drudgery — the metalheads and mullet rockers relegated to shit jobs by class circumstance, not bourgeois rebellion. Smith twisted Slacker's what-me-work? ethic into a working-class manifesto: “Just because they serve you doesn't mean they like you.”
Smith sold his comic book collection to make Clerks, and wound up with a $28,000 underground smash. Suddenly the stunned 24-year-old director had a Gramercy contract and a multimillion-dollar budget for his next film: Mallrats. In an interview last year, Smith called it a “love story for the common Jersey mallrat” and a “commentary on consumer culture,” but somewhere along the line the movie got the 90210 treatment; that is, these upper-crust mall-o-philes live in Tudor spreads and drive station wagons, with the exception of Silent Bob (Smith) and foulmouthed Jay (Jason Mewes), who return from Clerks.
Mallrats has all the locker-room crudeness of Smith's debut — bathroom humor, bare titties, low-rent slapstick, and Star Wars trilogy trivia — but none of the brainy dialogue that made Clerks such an unusual study in contrasts. Instead, T.S. (Jeremy London) and Brodie (skateboard legend Jason Lee) get dumped by their girlfriends and stake out the mall to win the babes back. Brodie must save Rene (Shannen Doherty) from the mack of the Casual Male boutique; T.S. woos Brandi (Claire Forlani) at the “Truth or Date” game show held near the food court. Smith may have wanted to herald the return of the R-rated youth comedy, but only one in five gags hits home, and the ending dissolves into the warm fuzzies. Porky's come home, all is forgiven.
On the other hand, do we really need another treatise on disaffected Kids? The Doom Generation has a character nicknamed X (for Xavier), but that allusion is subtle compared to the textbook signifiers bombarding this look at three young rockers on the lam. Subtitled “A heterosexual movie by Gregg Araki,” Doom pitches ever-bitching Amy (Rose MacGowan) and her wussy boyfriend, Jordan (James Duval), into a surreal landscape of bad karma ushered in by the murderous drifter Xavier (Johnathon Schaech).
X struts around like a glistening stalk of erectile tissue, seducing Amy, flirting with Jordan, and masturbating like a fiend. Amy and Jordan's relationship takes on the characteristics of a gender fuck; in once sex scene, she's on top, her lipstick smeared on Jordan's mouth. Eventually the two teens' budding polymorphous sexuality will be punished, to symbolize the intolerance of the larger culture, a theme Araki worked in earlier “gay-oriented” films like Totally F***ed Up. Subconsciously, perhaps, Araki is condemning the couple for their breeder status; Amy is constantly compared to a fish, or a “big, wet bearded clam,” and gets her comeuppance via gang rape. Let's just say she fares better than Jordan.
Araki's love-it-or-leave-it style is a hodgepodge of sight gags, bizarre cameos (Heidi Fleiss, Lauren Tewes), and purposefully cartoonish acting. The Doom Generation is visually riveting, but behind the punk rock camerawork and ironic, self-reflexive humor is the usual business about desensitized modern youth: Amy and Jordan callously scramble for free cigarettes when a convenience store clerk is murdered, but fall to pieces when a dog dies. In essence, the film has all the depth of a Nine Inch Nails video: temporarily cathartic — immediately forgotten. “Sometimes I feel like a gerbil smothered in Richard Gere's butthole,” Jordan says. Now that's a simile even a mallrat could understand.
Mallrats is showing at area theaters. The Doom Generation open Fri, Oct. 27, at the Gateway in S.F. and the UC Theater in Berkeley.