Empire Records (1995)

Own it!

review by Scott Hamilton and Chris Holland
See also:

That Thing You Do

Just Write

Bottle Rocket

Empire Records

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Our rating: three LAVA® motion lamps.

Tyler & Zellweger as teeny
boppers in Empire Records.
Empire Records is a movie you've seen before, but that's okay, as long as you remember to turn off your brain before you hit 'play' on the VCR. It's kind of a cross between The Breakfast Club and one of those goofy beach movies where the kids put on a show at the end of the movie to save the local malt shop. You're best off if you can concentrate on the one-liners and ignore the angst.

The movie begins with Lucas (Rory Cochrane), whose life "has reached its pinnacle. Joe is letting me close the store tonight." While he does so, however, he discovers that Empire Records, the funky music store at which Lucas and his friends work, is due to become a Musictown store. Musictown, we come to understand, is one of those cookie-cutter music chains where revealing clothing, tattoos, and excessive jewelry are forbidden. Thinking that this probably puts all of his friends out of a job, Lucas does the only thing he can: he steals the night's cash deposit and heads for Atlantic City.

During an amusing casino sequence, Lucas loses the $9000 store deposit. "I wonder if I'll be held responsible for this," he muses. The day from hell then begins, as Joe (Anthony LaPaglia), father-figure to Lucas and the store's manager, discovers what Joe has done.

Joe: Where's the money, Lucas?

Lucas: Joe, the money is gone.

Joe: I know it's GONE, where's it gone to?

Lucas: Atlantic City.

Joe: Atlantic City?

Lucas: Yeah.

Joe: What's it DOING in Atlantic City?

Lucas: Recirculating.

Meanwhile, the store's other employees filter in for a day of irresponsible wackiness and self-discovery. Debra's (Robin Tunney) idea of a makeover is a quick head-shave. Corey (Liv Tyler) wants to seduce Rex Manning, the visiting MTV star, and harbors a secret diet-pill addiction. Corey's friend Gina (Renee Zellweger) harbors a not-so-secret tendency towards exhibitionism. Mark and A.J., the token males, would be so much window dressing if not for a priceless hallucinatory scene in which Mark (Ethan Randall) gets sucked into a Gwar video. Over the course of the film, the characters must find true love, explore their personality flaws, stop a suicide, rescue a self-destructive teen, and save the store from white-bread franchise doom.

A.J. and Mark,
the token, boring males.
It's really too bad that so much of the film focuses on the bland-but-good-looking characters like Corey and A.J. (played by Johnny Whitworth, previously of Bye Bye, Love). We would really have liked to have seen more of Lucas, whose spacey Zen-master impersonation is one of the real reasons to watch this movie. ("What's with you?" asks A.J. "Yesterday you were normal and today you're like the Chinese guy from the Karate Kid.") Debra's self-pitying, suicidal loner bit was done better ten years before by Ally Sheedy in that previously mentioned teen angst classic, The Breakfast Club.

Empire Records isn't much more than a pleasant way to waste ninety minutes. The plot is recycled, the actors are all bucking to be part of the next Brat Pack, and the dialog wanders from scene to scene without much purpose. But hey, the soundtrack is good (they even thought to include the Flying Lizards!), there are plenty of good-looking people to watch, and you get a good chuckle every five minutes or so.

To sum it all up, here are the basic reasons to watch Empire Records:

- The cushion-hugging Rory Cochrane as Lucas: "Who knows where thoughts come from? They just appear!"

- Renee Zellweger in a Musictown apron -- and not much else. "How can we service you?"

- Warren the shoplifter, ready to be fried in oil and served to the first 100 customers.

- It's on cable and you're too lazy to get up and look for the remote.

Own it!

Review date: 09/17/1997

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