If your favorite band gets labeled “the voice of a doomed generation,” maybe you figure you’re winning that debate over “the only band that matters.” Then again, if the rest of music fandom doesn’t agree, if that very band acknowledges “The World Won’t Listen,” what then?
“Shoplifters of the World” is a musical coming-of-age comedy for Generation X, a derivative but alternately sweet and edgy homage to fans of Manchester’s The Smiths. They were a twangy, tuneful and gloomy rock ensemble that flashed by in the post-New Romantics ’80s until they abruptly hung it all up.
Music documentary veteran Stephen Kijack tries for a sort of R-rated John Hughes vibe, a movie with a little “High Fidelity,” a bit of “Pump Up the Volume” and a taste of “Airheads” about it. It’s a story set on the day in 1987 that The Smiths announce their breakup. And their Denver fans — disaffected, despairing, down for “Meat is Murder” the LP and the lifestyle — do not take it well.
Whatever you do, don’t call Cleo (Helena Howard of Amazon’s “The Wilds”) a “poser.” She’s got the “Meat Is Murder” vanity plate on her ancient VW and a dead-end future staring her in the face. This is NOT the day to test her.
“I f—–g HATE Molly Ringwald...’Pretty in Pink,’ what is THAT about? That freckled freak should try living with MY mother!”
Dean (Ellar Coltrane of “Boyhood”), clerk of the only record store that lets her shoplift Smiths cassettes, takes the news just as badly. But he’s the quiet type, a brooder.
“I really do wonder what’s left to live for these days?”
Cleo’s pals include Sheila (Elena Kampouris), a Madonna wannabe who eschews “that whole ‘boy toy’ thing,” Sheila’s “vow of celibacy” British boyfriend, Patrick (James Bloor) and their pal Billy (Nick Krause), “about to make the biggest mistake” of his young life. He reports to the Army the next day.
Billy crushes on Cleo, Patrick isn’t sure if he digs girls, Sheila is sexually frustrated and Cleo won’t stop bemoaning The Smiths. Sounds like a fun evening. Let’s hit a party!
But Dean? He’s got a gun, a box of Smiths LPs and a beef. He takes Full Metal Mickey at KISS-101-FM hostage and forces him to lay off the Ozzy and “Judas F—–g Priest” and spend an evening spinning “Heaven Knows I’m Miserable” and “I Know it’s Over” and “Girlfriend in a Coma” and their ilk.
As Full Metal Mickey is played by manic man mountain Joe Manganiello, you can imagine how that goes down. No “pansy-ass records” for Mickey. He won’t be responsible that “spike in the suicide rate,” nossir.
Except the kid’s got a gun. “Hair bands, BOY bands, endless loops of moldy ‘classics.’ This station vomits CHEEZEwhiz all over Denver!” The kid won’t be dissuaded.
“Shoplifters” is a parade of ’80s MTV fashions — proto-Goths and dueling Madanna wannabes, androgynous eye-liner for the sexually uncertain guys. Nobody wants to admit that EVERYbody is a poser at that age (early 20s), and their musical tastes reflect that.
The cool kids are into Morrissey and The Smiths, might consider Happy Mondays, and wear the uniforms of their tribe accordingly.
Coltrane is getting a lot of shots at stardom, but he lacks the screen presence to carry off a major comic role like this off. He needed to watch the radio station held hostage comedy “Airheads” to get an idea of how to hold his own with Manganiello in this tense and presumably hilarious situation.
Come to think of it, that’s not a very “Smiths Fan” thing to do — taking a gun into a radio station. Perhaps that’s an unsolvable acting dilemma.
Howard has screen presence but needs a role that calls for her to do more than rant and take dramatic, inexperienced drags on various cigarettes.
There are little flashes of fun in all this — a Thomas Lennon (record store owner) cameo here, a Manganiello rant there. But the whole is so overfamiliar that “Shoplifting” never gets over being a drag.
MPA Rating: unrated, gunplay, drug abuse, sex and profanity
Cast: Ellar Coltrane, Helena Howard, Elena Kampouris, Nick Krouse, James Bloor, Thomas Lennon and Joe Manganiello.
Credits: Scripted and directed by Stephen Kijak. An RLJE release.
Running time: 1:31