|Empire Records (Remix! Special Fan Edition)|
|Written by Abbie Bernstein|
|Tuesday, 01 June 2004|
“Empire Records” is somewhat reminiscent of “Pump Up the Volume,” another little cult hit from the same director, Allan Moyle. This time, the subject matter is an independent record store, where 30-something manager Joe (Anthony LaPaglia) presides over a brood of teenaged employees, all of whom have their own issues. A.J. (Johnny Wentworth) is trying to figure out how to confess his love to the gorgeous Corey (Liv Tyler), who has just been accepted to Harvard and wants to lose her virginity with pop star Rex Manning (Maxwell Caulfield), who is due to do an in-store album signing. Corey’s best friend Gina (Renee Zellweger) secretly resents Corey’s glowing future and drowns her anxieties in promiscuity. Good-natured Mark (Ethan Embry, billed as Ethan Randall here) dreams of guitar godhood, while rebellious Deb (Robin Tunney) contemplates her own mortality. Meanwhile, unflappably philosophical Lucas (Rory Cochrane) has just blown all the store’s cash in Atlantic City. Since this is the money Joe was planning to use to buy the store from its current crass, music-indifferent owner, it looks like the building will be sold to a music store chain.
The group’s wobbly efforts to forestall the commercial takeover of their beloved funky workplace provides the slender throughline. Moyle, writer Carol Heikkinen and the cast – full of faces who would achieve much greater fame in a few years – ably put across the credible if not terribly innovative teen angst and comedy, but what gives “Empire Records” an irresistible edge is the characters’ delight in music. When they geek out over the selection of Jeff Beck or fantasize about jamming with monster-costume band Gwar (who appear as themselves) or just air guitar and actual drum and dance along with whatever is pounding out over the Empire Records’ speakers, their goofy, abundant enthusiasm is infectious. There’s also something very comforting about Joe’s beleaguered but total acceptance of his young charges – he even tries to comprehend Lucas’ catastrophic actions.
The new print is nice and clean, though there’s a bit of optical glitter in Chapter 2 from a set of twinkling ceiling lights. The 5.1 soundtrack is mostly good, though the rears do some rather peculiar clunking in Chapter 7 when the soundtrack combines sounds of an electric shaver with the song “Free” – if it’s an intentional effect, it’s not a pretty one. However, most of the plentiful songs, which include contributions from the Gin Blossoms, The Cranberries, Toad the Wet Sprocket, Cracker, Evan Dando, Better Than Ezra and the aforementioned Gwar, come across handsomely. Chapter 6 also has a very realistic ambient effect as coins hit the floor, Chapter 15 has, of all things, quite convincing silverware noises (and the fetching sight of Tyler in her lingerie) and Chapter 23 has both some startlingly punchy gunshots and a sudden bit of discretely-placed dialogue in the left rear. The sound on my DVD went slightly out of sync in Chapter 23, though not disastrously so. Fans of Zellweger can catch her singing a rock tune in Chapter 26, previewing her Oscar-nominated turn in “Chicago” last year.
The four additional scenes are fairly agreeable – one of them redeems a character who is left fairly slimy in the film as it now stands. The sound on the added scenes is a bit low and located in the center channel. However, the three music videos – a pricelessly tacky ‘80s-style “Say No More” performed by Caulfield as Rex Manning, and two entries from Gwar (one of these is the extended version of Mark’s fantasy) – are all in full 5.1.
“Empire Records” isn’t particularly novel, but it’s hard not to respond to its sense of genuine ecstasy about all things rock ‘n’ roll. It’s unpretentious fun.