Director: Allan Moyle Rated: PG-13 Runtime: 1h 30m
Studio: New Regency (Warner Bros.) Screenwriter: Carol Heikkinen
Cast: Liv Tyler, Ethan Embry, Robin Turner, Johnny Whitworth, Rory Cochrane, Debi Mazer, Renée Zellweger, Coyote Shivers, Maxwell Caulfield
Adolescence is messy and confusing; adulthood doesn’t improve this, and Empire Records zeros in on this truth, though audaciously.
Films set in ’a day in the life’ can be challenging to embody multiple points about movies that make them watchable. Character development is such an area. Several characters staff the store at Empire Records, but there isn’t just one main focus. This film is centered around the plot, with the characters woven in, telling the story (as they should be) even if none of them is deep or developed. There’s just this right mix, blending, to make it all right.
Joe (Lapaglia) is the manager of Empire Records, who is beloved by his (clearly longstanding) employees. Lucas (Cochrane) learns that the owner, Mitchell, wants to sell the store to a big box chain music outlet. Doing so insults independent stores and expression and would see them all fired. So, he takes all the money from that day’s sales and heads off to Atlantic City instead of the bank. That doesn’t go to plan and helps fuel the main drive of the story. To top off learning he’s been robbed (the next day), Joe must contend with the has-been 80s pop star, Rex Manning (Caulfield), being in his store signing autographs. The filmmakers seemed to go for a mashup of David Hasslehoff and Fabio, wearing tight ass pants and a puffy pirate shirt.
Forget the reality that the store is constantly full of people, and a large chunk of the film centers around most of the staff in the back or elsewhere. Those extras are off-screen; think of them as paused for these moments. In these moments, we see slices of each employee as people and friends. Professionally who wouldn’t want all their workers to jive well together? Who wouldn’t want to go to a job they enjoyed without worrying about co-worker goobers? I think it’s a great accomplishment writing-wise and shown cinematically because they are all very different people. But that’s what you should strive for in a business like a record store, a great blend of people who are going to know a bit about every music type so they can best interact with the customers. However, there are few interactions with the customers in this store. There’s still time to catch shoplifters, which is one of the funnier sequences in the movie.
The cast is full of many actors who were early into their careers and went on to do more significant and more notable parts. Liv Tyler for Armageddon and Lord of the Ring trilogy. Ethan Embry for Can’t Hardly Wait, Sweet Home Alabama, Once Upon a Time. Robin Tunny in The Craft and The Mentalist. Empire Records is a fun story that needs to be enjoyed for the feel-good comedy of becoming an adult in the mid-90s. It’s not campy or cheesy and has a well-blended soundtrack that merges perfectly with the pace and tone of the overall film. Was it a box office flop? Hell yes!
Empire Records is a film that knows what it is. It was never difficult to sell or market to the public, yet the studio utterly failed with the trailer for this film. They over-explained, gave away too many details, and left nothing to the imagination. If they had given this movie a proper trailer, more people would have gone to see it. Empire Records is on the list of films that bombed at the box office but rose to cult classic status, deservedly.
If watching comedic movies without thinking about them seriously is your idea of a good time, Empire Records is a hidden nugget worth a place on your watchlist. Watch the trailer at your own risk. I dislike it so much that I opted not to include it in this post, but nothing I said was a spoiler, as it was in the trailer. Cheers!
-A Pen Lady