Film and Documentary

Empire Records: A Retro Review

“Empire Records” is one of those quirky 90s films where in a single day, in one music store, every conceivable thing happens to every conceivable character, and at the end of the day, they are all a lot wiser. Or supposedly so.

The characters all work at Empire Records, located in a fictional small town in Delaware. They’re all more or less members of Generation X, except for Joe (Anthony LaPaglia) the store manager, who serves as kind of a father figure. And they are all about to undergo a huge transformation, as the store owners are preparing to sell out to the much hated Music City chain, which has a dress code that outlaws tattoos and body piercings and would basically disqualify the entire Empire Records staff.

The movie opens with head closer Lucas (Rory Cochrane) finding out about the Music City debacle, and instead of depositing the daily cash receipts ($9K) to the bank, he takes a ride to Atlantic City to try and win enough money to save their beloved record store. He wins big, doubles down, and loses miserably, having to return back and face the music. Joe berates him, and then scrambles to find a way to keep the owner Mitchell Beck (Ben Bode) from finding out.

The other members of the employee family include Corey (Liv Tyler), a good girl with a huge crush on visiting pop star Rex Manning (Maxwell Caulfield) and counts on him to help her update her image; Gina (Renee Zellwiger) who is the resident “bad girl”; Mark (Ethan Embry) a loveable, yet slightly wacky emo kid; Debra (Robin Tunney), who is constantly going through massive angst; and A. J. (Johnny Whitworth), whose secret love for Corey is simply adorable. Add in a shoplifter who calls himself “Warren Beatty” (Brendan Sexton), and you get instant insanity.

The day proceeds with massive hijinks galore, including Debra shaving her head, Gina making the moves on Rex Manning after Corey decides not to go through with her scheme, a makeshift make-believe funeral, and Joe nearly losing his mind many times over. The culmination of the day is when the team decides to throw a rave to “Save The Empire – Damn the Man.” Of course, they succeed with a little help from their friends, and Joe buys Mitch out, saving the record store and all their jobs!

If you’re looking for intellectual stimulation, this isn’t the movie for you. What this movie is is just tons of laughs from start to finish. While the plot of the movie itself is thin and a little out there, the wildly epic 90s music soundtrack makes it well worth the ride. Songs like the Gin Blossoms hit Til I Hear It From You, The Cranberries song Liar, Toad The Wet Sprocket’s Crazy Life, and a cool tune called Sugar High from Coyote Shivers, which also gives you a first look at Zellweger’s vocal chops. This movie is definitely one I’d watch again.

Tami Danielson is the main in-house blogger and Director of Operations for Pop-Daze. She was raised in California and Florida and currently resides in Oregon. Tami has written for a variety of periodicals and has provided digital marketing services for a number of artists. She can be reached at [email protected]