Talk to some Kevin Smith fans and ask them what their least favorite film by the director is. Answers will vary, but the one that will pop up the most, in all likelihood, is Mallrats. The reason for this is very simple. It simply isn't as full of the Smith Edge as the previous film Clerks or the follow-up Chasing Amy.

The Smith Edge, the factor that makes him so popular amongst teenagers and 20-somethings, is to make the bullshit pop dissertation (an angle also worked on by Quentin Tarantino around the same time) into a full-length film, and to make it frickin' interesting. Let's face it. Most of our lives are not as interesting as the latest action hero, or the soapy teen romance. A lot of us fill that void by discussing the world that's around us. Smith touches the heart of each person who feels that they are their own life's running commentary.

Make no mistake, Mallrats is full of commentary. However, Smith was unfortunately saddled with the unenviable task of making something "commercially viable" for his sophomore effort. This meant adding a romantic subplot that fit the studio's concept of love. Toning down Jay and Silent Bob, the two characters who appear in all of Smith's films. Recognizable but relatively inexpensive stars (in this case, top-billed Shannen Doherty, then of "Beverly Hills, 90210" fame). this point I'm sure I sound like I at least have mild disdain for this film. Not so, true believer. Mallrats ranks as my second-favorite Kevin Smith film. Why? Probably because it has better direction than Clerks, funnier dialouge than Dogma, and its more down-to-earth than the way out there Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back (of course, nothing touches Chasing Amy).

You see, the center of this film isn't the aforementioned Doherty, no matter what her status on the marquee. It isn't even the "romantic lead" Jeremy London. It's Jason Lee, at his snide best, playing comic book geek Brodie Bruce.

Lee builds upon a character model begun by Jeff Anderson in Clerks...the nerd who holds himself above all...the cretin who laughs at cretins. He tells bizarre stories about his cousin Walt that he swears are true. He treats superheroes so seriously he gets into lively discussions about their sexual lives. He would rather finish a Sega hockey game than connect with his girlfriend. Though we would probably like to think we wouldn't like this guy in real life, there is something endearing about this loser that reminds us that you or somebody who is close to you is just like him! (Cue ominous music).

(And please note - I don't necessarily condone this kind of character in Real Life. In fact, a person who would actually model himself after Brodie Bruce must be kind of - well, I hate to use the word "pathetic". It's kinda mean. Let's face it, though, the character is appealing because he has a good writer. Most imitators probably don't have Smith on their side).

So, ignore the so-called plot about London and Lee attempting to get back their respective girls on an average day at the mall, and focus on the verbal hi-jinks that Lee plays. Not until Jeff Bebe in Almost Famous would he be given another role so in tune with his talents.

Oh, and for those who were wondering... No, Smith still can't set up a shot. Yes, Jason Mewes (Jay of -- and Silent Bob) is a horrible actor. Yes, there are two lovely sets of bare breasts. No, seeing Michael Rooker's naked butt is not the high point of anybody's existence. Yes, that's a Clerks cap London picks up late in the film. No, you can't borrow my copy of Mallrats.

Yes, you should go rent this.



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