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Cult Tribute: Empire Records
Forgive me dear readers as I begin this next column with a loud and profound “DAMMIT!”. As it turns out, I’ve messed; I’ve messed up really bad. Like Lucas losing all of the Empire’s money at Atlantic City bad. While I was busy yesterday singing the praises of WCW legend La Parka or writing about last night's CMLL show, something was going on in the world; something so goofy and nerdy that it deserved my attention in the same way it deserves yours. And what did I do; I forgot all about it. Ladies, gentlemen, 90's hooligans still stuck in that glorious decade; I forgot about Rex Manning Day!
Now there’s going to be two different reactions to that; one is a burning desire to see my writing license revoked from everywhere along the East coast (especially Delaware. Can’t enter that state anymore) and the other will be a question; what in the blazes is Rex Manning Day? That answer is far simpler. Rex Manning Day is a day where we don’t dwell on things, a day where there are unlimited possibilities, a day when a regular dude dressed like a poor man’s Kurt Cobain in pajamas can win the girl and a day when the Gin Blossoms’ royalty checks are bigger T.O.’s eyes when a shirtless Roman Reigns enters the room. Oh, it’s also a day that only exists because of a super duper awesome 90s cult film that featured a killer young cast, an absolutely awesome soundtrack, a whole lot of damning of the man and oh yes, the national holiday known as Rex Manning Day. And with that it’s time for me to rectify my mistake. Everyone, this is a Movie Tribute to 90s classic, the greatest thing Rory Cochran ever did in his life (sorry Slater) and ode to the record store, the one and only Empire Records.
What You Already Know
For you mainstream America this section is going to be very small, what with the fact that Empire Records was a box office bomb and was described by famous critic Roger Ebert as “a lost cause”. In fact, the only thing you likely know about Empire Records is that it had a lot of famous people in it before they became famous. Indeed the cast boasts a group of future stars, including Anthony LaPaliga (Without a Trace, big hit with the adult TV/CSI audience), Liv Tyler (daughter of Steve, star of Armageddon), Robin Tunney (The Craft, Prison Break), ETHAN EMBRY (Can’t Hardly Wait, Once Upon a Time), Debi Mazar (literally every TV show ever) and Academy Award winner Renee Zellweger right before she hit big with Jerry Maguire (a film that simultaneously made and ruined Cuba Gooding Jr.’s career. FYI). That doesn’t even include aforementioned Cochran (who would become a bigger star but already had notoriety for his role as Slater in the legendary Dazed and Confused), the film’s lone star of the time Maxwell Caulfield (Rex Manning himself!) or the guy who appeared in Ghost Rider 2, which might be the most unnecessary film of all time if not for the existence of Ghost Rider. The point is this cast is loaded with great young talent and you, casual American/worldwide movie goer, likely know of Empire Records if for no other reason than you saw it listed under the actor’s IMDB page while reading about them. By the way, yes ETHAN EMBRY intentionally has his name in all CAPS. Anyone who was in Empire Records AND Can’t Hardly Wait deserves such treatment.
What You Didn’t Know
Considering there’s going to be a good number of people (at least in theory) who read this that have seen and loved the film, this section may turn out to be pretty pointless. Alas it has to be done; the people of planet Earth need to know about this film and I’m not going to be the one who spoils the whole damn thing! Anyways, the general gist of Empire Records is that it takes place during the course of one day at a Delaware records store named Empire Records (way to give away the name in the title!). And boy you wouldn’t believe the shit that goes on there. Sensitive artistic type A.J. (Johnny Whitworth, probably sad he’ll eventually be the villain in Ghost Rider 2) pines for his best friend Corey (Tyler), a good girl who is secretly doing speed in order to get into a good school. Stoner Mark (EMBRY) wants to start a band and must deal with the fact that no one in the store wants to listen to Suicidal Tendencies. Debra (Tunney) has shaved off all her hair and is acting suicidal for reasons unknown. Promiscuous Gina (Zellweger) starts the day trying to help Corey lose her virginity and eventually lashes out at her in resentment. And through it all the staff has to deal with a robber with the code name “Warren Beatty” (Hurricane Streets star Brendan Sexton III) who really seems to enjoy rap, metal and Whitney Houston. It’s not for your girlfriend dude!
Oh and then there’s the main story. Remember that joke at the beginning of this column about a guy named Lucas blowing all his money in Atlantic City? That’s from this movie; Lucas (Cochran) goes and blows all the cash in the Empire register at a casino, a thing that goes from bad to exceedingly bad when we learn that Empire’s manager Joe (LaPaliga) was going to use the cash to try and become a partner of Mitch (Ben Bode) a yuppie who owns the store despite hating music and pretty much everything that’s good and fun in this world (his resentment towards his “beatnik father” is pretty comical too I must add). Thus the film becomes a quest to regain the money ($9,000 for those interested) and “save the Empire”, all while the other stuff is going on and while Rex Manning (Caulfield) is in town for a meet in great in the wake of what he hopes will be his comeback album. I think I’ve gotten every detail. Excuse me now while I go drink eighteen bottles of water just to get my breath back.
For hardcore fans of the film, the defining moment has always been the Rex Manning music video “Say No More, Mon Amour”. And honestly it’s hard to argue with that; as much as the film is an ode to the 90s alt rock scene, “Say No More, Mon Amour” (the single that was supposed to be the fictional Manning’s comeback hit) his just absolutely hilarious in mocking the over the top nature of pop music, the pop music video and musicians who just clearly don’t get it anymore. Sprinkled throughout the film, the song and video were never intended to be used for more than mocking purposes and short glimpses (the filmmakers intended for the video to only be seventeen seconds long). For whatever reason however the video director shot a full days worth of film for the song and thus a full length music video for “Say No More, Mon Amour” was born. Get ready to laugh and cringe sports fans!
Ladies and gentlemen I have sung the praises of Out Cold, I have defended to the death the merits of the DJ Qualls opus The New Guy; I’ve even seen Zack Snyder satisfy a comic book fan (just kidding. Or am I?). Few of those things can compare to Empire Records, which in my opinion is one of the best cult films of the 90's. I’m not saying it’s perfect and I’m pretty sure no one is going to claim the film is in the league of Mad Max: Fury Road or Speed Racer (get over it folks. Speed Racer was great and you all missed the boat on it!). But as a critique of the silliness that is pop music, a love letter to the record store and an attempt to capture the feel that was the alternative rock days of the 90s, Empire Records is a fantastic, entertaining success. I can honestly say I love everything about it; the cast, the story, the soundtrack and yes, even Rex Manning day. So if you’ve ever wanted to just jump back to the mid 90s, bust on silly pop music videos and or listen to that bloody Gin Blossoms song again (I don’t blame you; it’s catchy as hell), Empire Records is the film for you. Damn the man; save the Empire!
And the store is saved. Hope you enjoyed this one guys and gals. I’m off to watch the movie now, followed by me watching the Masters. Yes I watch golf as well; I’m cultured dammit! Till next time, how about a Rex Manning Day meme for your travels?