When it was released in 1995, Empire Records was the right movie at the wrong time. Five years later, after a big wave of unironic teen movies, it could have been a box-office hit. Instead, it was a critical and commercial failure during the waning days of the early-'90s alt-rock explosion, when irony was epidemic, teen films were stuck in an awkward post-John Hughes, pre-Can't Hardly Wait limbo, and opportunistic advertisers bragged that punk rock was now available in vehicular form. Empire Records has subsequently become a cult favorite, and the misleadingly titled, special-features-impaired Remix! Special Fan Edition DVD helps illustrate why. A tacky but charming teen movie bursting with dopey innocence, the film documents one eventful day in the life of an independent record store run by kindly father figure Anthony LaPaglia and staffed by an assortment of sturdy youth-movie archetypes. Liv Tyler leads a future-star-studded cast as a Harvard-bound brain intent on losing her virginity to a cheesy, Robert Palmer-like pop star (a scene-stealing Maxwell Caulfield). Renée Zellweger costars as the store's resident tramp, while troubled, chrome-domed Robin Tunney plays a sentient cry for help masquerading as a troubled clerk. Over the course of roughly 24 hours, hearts are broken and then restored, the employees come to understand each other, and revelations and potentially life-altering decisions are doled out at a rapid clip. And, every 10 minutes or so, the cast takes a break to boogie and bop about to a ubiquitous soundtrack of alt-rock chestnuts from the likes of Better Than Ezra and Toad The Wet Sprocket. In other movies, the constant digressions into music-video land might come across as gratuitous. Here, it's exactly the opposite: The film exists for its shots of telegenic youngsters busting loose to a bankable soundtrack, and it's the cheesy dialogue, overstuffed plot, and predictable character arcs that come across as superfluous. Director Allan Moyle previously groped around in search of the cultural zeitgeist with 1990's Pump Up The Volume. Wildly overrated on release, that film was hailed as a bold exploration of the angst of a lost generation, while Empire Records was panned as a synthetic attempt to capitalize on an already waning alt-rock boom. History has been much kinder to the less ambitious film, which never attempts to posit sub-Dennis Miller rants as Lenny Bruce-esque indictments of bourgeois hypocrisy, but happily relies on crowd-pleasing clichés set to the hits of the day. On its own modest terms, it's much more successful. And, with a new Lollapalooza on the horizon, the release of Remix! Special Fan Edition could be an early sign of a '90s nostalgia wave.
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