Sam Strange Remembers: EMPIRE RECORDS

Hollywood legend Sam Strange recalls the time he made a generation defining movie about something or other. But it was the 90s!

The 90s was an interesting time because it was basically the coolest time ever. Everyone was super preoccupied with being cool, and luckily there were many ways one could achieve coolness. You could be depressed, angry, bubbly, or stupid. Or, like pretty much everyone back then, you could fake your way to being all four.

As a result, the 90s was also an interesting time for cinema. In the 60s and 70s, we made stories about humans. Because they happened to take place in the 60s and 70s, some of these films went on to define their generation. We knew of this possibility in the 90s, so we went out of our way to make films that defined the 90s while the 90s was still going on. The characters in these films are hit songs first and humans second. The irony is that by trying to define a generation, we made a bunch of films that people now make fun of. A lot. With friends. While singing along with the soundtrack. And revisiting childhood memories. Mission accomplished.

Empire Records is a great example. It’s about a bunch of assholes who supposedly work at a record store because they supposedly love music. There’s like twenty people working at this place and exactly eighteen of them spend most of the film hanging out in the employee lounge. One guy on the clock is not even allowed to leave the couch. Another asshole spends his time glueing quarters to the floor for art’s sake #occupywallstreet. One girl clocks in only to go straight to the bathroom to shave her head for two hours and… wait. I’m starting to get pissed off at 90s kids all over again.

If there’s a main guy in this film, his name is A.J. If there’s not a main guy in this film, his name is Jerome. Jerome is in love with this girl named Claire, played by rock royalty Juicy Jagger. Jerome and Claire don’t seem like a good match at first because they only thing we know about them is that they’re both pretty. But later we find out she’s a meth addict, and you can understand the attraction.

Claire is really excited because a teen bopper superstar named Shooter McGavin is coming to the store for a signing, kind of like how all the independent record stores today have Chris Brown or the guy who killed Michael Jackson pop in every so often. Because she’s not in love with Jerome yet, she’s determined to lose her virginity to McGavin. Her slutty friend, Slutsy (Rene Zeligger), thinks this is a great idea. Jerome disapproves from behind his curtain hair.

Here’s how this goes: she tells McGavin she wants to have sex with him. He says okay. She runs away crying. Slutsy slips in and take her place. Everyone is mad at everyone. They’re mad at Shooter for acting like a rock star. They’re mad at Slutsy for actually doing what the other girl was wanting to do. Jerome is mad that Claire would even want to score with such a slimebag. And Shooter is mad about the clap.

There’s also a guy named Mark. He’s played by Ethan Embry, an actor Hollywood eventually replaced with Ethan Suplee. This slips by a lot of people, but Mark is supposed to be retarded. We never say it out loud because I didn’t think we needed to.

Mark’s story is that he gets replaced by another retard, Warren Beatty. The gang meets Warren when they catch him robbing the store. Sizing him up as a bigger retard than Mark, they hire him as a replacement. The plan is simply to stop feeding Mark and eventually he’ll slink away. Warren Beatty goes on to stick the store up with a gun, and they give him a raise.

That brings us to the girl with no hair who tries to commit suicide with a Bic shaver. Her timeline is pretty interesting. Her suicide attempt takes place the night before the film begins. Having failed, she comes to work with hair, then goes to the bathroom and shaves it off. When no one can ignore her bullshit any longer, they hold a fake funeral for her. Halfway through, they hold her down and cut her wrists open. She acts like she suddenly wants to live, but everyone knows it’s just a cry for help.

Am I done introducing characters yet? Oh, there’s one guy with a gargoyle face who slinks around holding a guitar. He doesn’t have any lines, so I don’t know what his deal is besides the fact that he plays guitar and looks like a gargoyle. In any other film his name would be Deleted Sceneguy.

This film does have a plot, by the way. See, this guy named Lucas (played by Dazed and Confused‘s Rory Calhoun) gets to close the store for the first time. While going through drawers, he discovers that their beloved record store is going to be turned into a Target if they can’t raise enough money to buy Target out. He also finds $9,000, which falls significantly short of the store’s Buy Out Target target.

Trying to help the situation, Lucas goes to Atlantic City and gambles away all the money. He then runs afoul of local mafia types who thump his head so severely that it changes his whole personality from stupid slacker to 100 year old Asian dude.

This is bad news for the store’s owner, New (played by Anthony Lasagna). New not only has an employee who can pseudo-philosophize away all personally responsibility for fucking everyone over, but he now has to sell his beloved store to corporate assholes. Luckily, he falls in love with Shooter McGavin’s assistant, York (played by Debbie Maazaar).

But everything ultimately works out. The gang bands together and forms a band called The Gang. They play a show and make enough off merch to save the store forever (they have no CD’s yet, so their merch is all Neil Diamond albums and shirts that say “Who Farted?”). Everyone gets to keep their job. And they all laugh about their adventures over cappuccinos which are actually lattes.

(three stars)

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