'90s Movie Month! "Empire Records" Review

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The enigmatic and eccentric employees of an independent music store learn about each other as they try anything to stop the store from being absorbed by a large chain.
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'90s Movie Month! "Empire Records"Review

Rating: PG-13 (sexual situations, drug issue, language)
Length: 90 minutes
Release Date: October 20, 1995
Directed by: Alan Moyle
Genre: Comedy/Drama

Teen movies of the 1990s were all about melodramatic styling, brooding monologues, and an odd ensemble of films created around music. "Empire Records" is perhaps the secret jewel in the 90s era music-related film genre. The movie, which was released in 1995, features an eclectic cast of characters. From Harvard-bound Corey (Liv Tyler) to record shop manager Joe (Anthony LaPaglia), the group forms a dysfunctional family of friends.

The movie begins with Joe asking Lucas, played by Rory Cochrane, to close the store. Lucas uncovers a disturbing bit of news as he counts out receipts at the end of the day; Empire Records will be taken over by generic franchise Music Town. In a Hail Mary attempt to save the store, Lucas takes the day's revenue to Atlantic City, where he loses everything.

The next morning, Lucas is discovered by his friends, AJ (Johnny Whitworth) and Mark (Ethan Embry). Viewers are also introduced to Corey, a cashier for Empire Records, and her friend Gina (Renée Zellweger). Lucas's friends figure out he's done something terrible with the previous day's deposits, and Joe covers for the teen temporarily by passing off a bag of old receipts as the deposit when owner Mitchell Beck (Ben Bodé) shows up.

At this point, the zany action of the movie starts to pick up, and viewers are introduced to additional characters—almost every person in "Empire Records" seems to represent a common stereotype of the 90s. There's Lucas, the everyman who messed up but knows it will be okay. There's good-girl Corey, who intends to lose her virginity to a visiting rock star, and her best friend, the slightly wild Gina. Owner Mitchell Beck is cast as the corporate-minded business owner ready to sell out individuality for money.

Another store employee joins the ranks; this time it's Deb (Robin Tunney), a dark, antisocial girl with suicidal tendencies and a recent breakup with local rocker Berko (Coyote Shivers). All these characters aren't enough to encompass the varied personality of the 90s, so viewers are also introduced to a code-named shoplifter (Brendan Sexton III), a ridiculous rocker named Rex Manning (Maxwell Caulfield), and Manning's assistant Jane (Debi Mazar).

Against this character-strewn backdrop, a timeless underdog story begins to play out with all the angst the 90s could muster. Corey crushes on Rex Manning and attempts to seduce him, only to rush from the room in embarrassment when the situation doesn't end up as romantic as she dreamed. At the same time, AJ admits to having feelings for Corey, but she's not in a place to hear about his emotions. Deb is clearly dealing with something, but won't open up to Joe or Berko, and the entire staff is reeling from the news that Beck is selling out to Music Town.

Joe, who's been saving up for years in order to buy the business, may have to spend his savings to replace the thousands of dollars Lucas lost gambling. The day, which isn't going well for anyone, begins sliding downhill fast. There's a fistfight, more than one shouting match, a mock funeral, and a holdup. In the end, this fun 90s flick redeems itself with characters banding together, lots of music, and what may pass for a montage scene.

"Empire Records" is one of those films full of popular young actors of the day, and many of the performers went on to successful long-term careers. Ethan Embry's post "Empire Records" credits include "That Thing You Do!" "Can't Hardly Wait," "Disturbing Behavior," and several long-running stints on popular television shows.Renée Zellweger landed many movie roles, including the iconic "Bridget Jones' Diary," and Liv Tyler would move forward with roles in "The Incredible Hulk" and "The Lord of the Rings." Most of the young actors in the film have had some level of success in television and movies.

Although "Empire Records" explores timeless themes of teen angst, individualism, and the small-business-versus-corporate-world conflict, some things about the movie are uniquely 90s in nature. Anyone who was in high school or college during the 90s will enjoy "Empire Records" as a flashback to days that were both better and not so great. Those who weren't teens or young adults in the 90s may still enjoy the flick for its insightful dialogue and underdog themes. Consider putting "Empire Records" on as part of a 90s throwback evening. After the flick, you can rock to the music of the Rembrandts, Soundgarden, and Nirvana.

Rating: 3 out of 5