Empire Records

(USA 1995)

“I’m the idiot, you’re the screw up, and we are all losers,” sums up Empire Records general manager Joe (Anthony LaPaglia) when he realizes that clerk Lucas (Rory Cochrane) blew the store’s receipts in Atlantic City the night before, which incidentally was the first time Joe let him close shop. His heart was in the right place: Lucas wanted to raise capital to buy the store before owner Mitchell (Ben Bode) sells it to a lame corporate chain called Music Town. Empire Records, you see, is more than a retail outlet: it’s a haven for floundering misfits, including a young shoplifter (Brendon Sexton) who goes by “Warren Beatty.”

Empire Records was a box office bomb (http://www.boxofficemojo.com/movies/?id=empirerecords.htm). Carol Heikkinen’s script is earnest in its desire to (I guess) reveal some revelation about ’90s youth, but the plot is all too predictable, coming off as a third-rate The Breakfast Club. The cast, though, is impressive; loaded with professionals (Debi Mazar and Maxwell Caulfield) and future stars like Renée Zellweger and Liv Tyler, the actors collectively ooze a credible chemistry. Director Allan Moyle pulls some decent performances out of them. A playfully snarky sense of humor about American culture pervades this film, evident in such nifty devices as “Rex Manning Day” and a dream sequence involving Gwar.

Empire Records is very much a product of its time, but that’s what makes it interesting to watch now. This no doubt is why it was selected as the third screening of Chicago International Film Festival’s Totally ’90s series.

With Robin Tunney, Johnny Whitworth, James “Kimo” Wills, Ethan Embry, Coyote Shivers

Production: Monarchy Enterprises B.V., New Regency Pictures, Regency Entertainment, Warner Brothers

Distribution: Warner Brothers

90 minutes
Rated PG-13

(Public Chicago) C+

Chicago International Film Festival

Can’t Hardly Wait

(USA 1998)

As teen comedies go, the ’90s were a teenage wasteland. Sure, there were a few classics: Dazed and Confused, Clueless, Election, and American Pie immediately come to mind. That’s really about it. Can’t Hardly Wait, the second film of Chicago International Film Festival’s Totally ’90s series, is a typical specimen from the decade: it has some moments, but overall it’s either bland or reductive. Frankly, I don’t even remember it in theaters, which probably says all I need to know.

The setting is a huge kegger in a Los Angeles suburb the night of graduation. Leading man Preston Meyers (Ethan Embry), a sensitive dork, has longed for class babe Amanda Beckett (Jennifer Love Hewitt) ever since he first laid eyes on her during freshman year: he knew they were destined to be together when he noticed the same strawberry Pop Tarts in her bag that he had in his. She went for Mike Dexter (Peter Facinelli), a jock, instead; they dated all through high school. Word on the street is, Mike dumped Amanda. Intrigued, Preston persuades his snarky and derisive bestie Denise Fleming (Lauren Ambrose), certainly no woo-woo girl, to accompany him.

Meanwhile, class geek William Lichter (Charles R. Korsmo), who looks like a deranged Harry Potter, shows up to exact revenge against Mike, his lifelong nemesis. Mike, who dumped Amanda so he could be free to sleep around all summer, isn’t having fun—he’s preoccupied reconsidering his decision. While Preston chases after Amanda to give her a letter in which he spills his guts, Denise gets locked into a secluded bathroom with wannabe gangsta/raver Kenny Fisher (Seth Green), who wears big sneakers and goggles and thinks he’s a stud but isn’t.

Co-directors and screenwriters Harry Elfont and Deborah Kaplan clearly watched a ton of ’70s and ’80s teen flicks. They have good ideas, but I’ve seen them done before and done better. The only storyline that really interested me was the one with Denise and Kenny in the bathroom. And I love Seth Green. Other than that, the situations and the dialogue here lack any snap or punch. It’s all pretty flat.

This is not to say I hated Can’t Hardly Wait; I didn’t. I just didn’t love it. It was merely okay. I consider myself a teen movie aficionado, and this did not move me. The soundtrack is way better.

With Michelle Brookhurst, Alexander Martin, Erik Palladino, Channon Roe, Sean Patrick Thomas, Freddy Rodríguez, Joel Michaely, Jay Paulson, Jason Segel (in his first appearance onscreen), Selma Blair, Jerry O’Connell

Production: Columbia Pictures Corporation, A Tall Trees Production

Distribution: Columbia Pictures

101 minutes
Rated PG-13

(Public Chicago) C

Chicago International Film Festival