Empire Records: Remix!
*½/**** Image B Sound A- Extras C-
starring Liv Tyler, Anthony LaPaglia, Renee Zellweger, Maxwell Caulfield
screenplay by Carol Heikkinen
directed by Allan Moyle
by Bill Chambers Allan Moyle's Empire Records has defenders too staunch to disregard--and because I listened to them, I'm left with the sensation that I chewed a piece of bubblegum until well after its flavour ran dry. The Canadian Moyle, whose inauspicious directorial debut was the 1977 tax-shelter crime flick The Rubber Gun, discovered teenagers three years later with his oddity of a second film Times Square and has rarely looked back since. Yet although his cinematic beginnings predate those of John Hughes, Moyle's Pump Up the Volume and Empire Records are eclipsed by even the lesser entries in Hughes's teen canon, such as Sixteen Candles and the Hughes-produced Pretty in Pink.
I draw the comparison because Moyle, like Hughes (and unlike the hucksters behind the countless failed high-school romps of the past two decades), has empathy for his young characters--though Hughes was less reluctant to hold them accountable for their angst, marking Moyle as the bigger suck-up--and because he leans towards having an aesthetic, especially in Empire Records, that favours, as Hughes's does, quarantining close-ups and medium close-ups. (What Moyle is missing, which Hughes never lacked for, is a good editor.) But Empire Records goes horribly astray, starting with the fact that it's so cluttered: with characters, with storylines, with props, with music, oh God, with music--it's impossible to remember any of the picture's songs since they're in constant dissolution, like a radio being tuned by the ficklest driver on the road.
The film contributes nothing but coarseness to a creaky Little Rascals plot about a corporate takeover threat to the titular vinyl emporium, and it seems to keep angst in limitless supply. For instance, first the Little Miss Perfect virgin Corey (Liv Tyler, still wearing her schoolgirl outfit from the Aerosmith video "Crazy") has her plan to offer herself to sleaze idol Rex Manning (a typecast Maxwell Caulfield) blow up in her face, then Corey's best male friend, A.J. (Johnny Whitworth), ruins what they have by telling her he loves her, then the filmmakers decide, out of the blue and halfway through the film at this point, that Corey is addicted to diet pills. Maybe the whole of Empire Records is actually a Tappy Tibbons hallucination as she undergoes shock treatment.
Empire Records is a hyperventilating film in continuous search of a paper bag. It can't wait to resolve problems just to get to new ones, and the obnoxious behaviour of its ungainly ensemble, a motley crew with put-on rebel spirit, evokes The Muppets at best and The Brady Bunch at worst. The employees of "Empire Records" force a suicidal colleague (Robin Tunney) to attend a mock funeral for herself, and it's the kind of gesture so insistently smothering as to leave no doubt why someone would prefer sweet death to working at this record store. Empire Records opens with a well-meaning betrayal of a Kermit-esque figure, as Lucas (Rory Cochrane) thinks he's doing Joe (Anthony LaPaglia), the manager of the place, a favour when he steals the rent money and attempts to double it in Atlantic City. There are, however, none of the Muppet safety nets (chiefly, wit, which this film substitutes with cheek) to cushion the blow of Lucas letting $18,000 ride on one dice roll and then smugly, cutesily shrugging off this hostile act of stupidity. Joe: "Where's the money?" Lucas: "Atlantic City." Joe: "What's it doing there?" Lucas: "Recirculating."
What to say on the subject of Empire Records: Remix!--which made its DVD debut earlier this week--specifically? As this "Special Fan Edition" extends the film's length by seventeen minutes, you'd think a more coherent vision would emerge (note that Moyle has yet to publicly endorse this as a director's cut), but Empire Records is actually all fingers and thumbs in this form, lacking basic relativity. Some of the new scenes, such as extensions to the prologue, have no consequence and are inconsequential; the picture had sloughed this stuff off very organically. While I held out hope that the additional footage would stabilize the film, i.e., give the sketchier principals (such as bug-eyed, cannabis-grinning Ethan Randall née Embry (you can run, but you can't hide, dude)) something to do between popping up, whack-a-mole-like, to mug for the camera, it turns out the theatrical version was as good as it gets.
Warner issues Empire Records: Remix! on a dual-layer DVD. (The original cut, released to disc in 2001, remains available separately.) Laden with dull blacks and mild edge-enhancement, the "all-new digital" 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer fails to show off the capabilities of the format while representing a minor upgrade from the previous DVD in terms of saturation and reproduction of flesh tones. A fresh Dolby Digital 5.1 mix provides a wall of pop, while the occasional tossing of voices into the rear discretes becomes a nice, memorable touch.
"4 more additional scenes that even this remix couldn't contain" goes the copy for a section of deleted material, where you'll find more of Joe brooding in his office as Lucas plays GameBoy, a conversation between Rex and the barely-glimpsed "Berko" (Coyote Shivers), a much-desired recrimination for Lucas's actions, and the ridiculously pat return of Rex. Empire Records' theatrical trailer, cast/crew bios, music videos for "Rex Manning"'s "Say No More" and Gwar's "Saddam a Go-Go" and "Vlad the Impaler (live)" round out the disc. Note that her pretentious accent aigu was superimposed over Renée Zellweger's first name for the cover-art credits of this disc (she's plain old "Renee" on screen), and that, so far as one can tell, Tobey Maguire's expunged role continues to reside in a vault somewhere. Originally published: June 22, 2003.