Falcon Movies
June 11, 2018

Bette Midler, Woody Allen

On today’s Slow Monday Top Ten , I’m going to type endlessly about movies that use a mall as a major part of the story. The Mall (in capitals) is an American tradition, which has been slowly, slowly declining since the early 90s. It had its hey-day in the 80s, which was the era of excess, where The Mall (in caps) fit in perfectly. You could find whatever you wanted in the mall, from Orange Julius to cheap jewelry that looked suspiciously second-hand. That mass-market accessibility is maybe the most appealing thing about a mall, and many mall themes can be seen in popular movies like Dawn of the Dead or Mallrats, both of which take the setting of the mall and imbue it with unique characteristics. In the case of Dawn, the mall is shelter from the apocalypse, but also the last bastion of a once great civilization, one obsessed with shopping and wandering aimlessly for no good reason. The word Mallrats is unique and clever, imbuing a human being with the trashy, superficial characteristics of The Mall (in caps), and that superficiality makes a funny comedy about young people. What about the rest of these? Are these good movies with a mall?

10. Paul Blart: Mall Cop (2009) – If this movie was maybe released in the 80s or 90s, it’d probably be more memorable. As it is, the movie feels dated, but maybe that’s what they were going for with all the stupid references and silly dialogue. Fortunately, this type of comedy fits Kevin James best, as he’s able to do some physical humor and a lot of situational humor.

9. Chopping Mall (1986) – I reviewed this movie for the 2017 31 Days of Halloween Movie Review-A-Thon and it’s pretty much crap (click here for that review). It’s a Roger Corman quickie, so it’s guaranteed to have a lot of outrageous stuff in it. Unfortunately, the movie feels late to the party, with some material already covered by other movies, like Dawn of the Dead. Still, it’s at least entertaining to watch teenagers run away from “robots” made from vacuum clearners.

8. Scenes From a Mall (1991) – Woody Allen’s sappy romance has one good scene I like. Allen and his wife, played by Bette Midler, visit a mall and the scene makes you think they’re visiting a swanky, high-class jewelry store. The clerk brings out an item on a pillow (of all things) and the couple looks adoringly at it. Midler seems really happy, but we learn that it’s simply just a picture of the family put into this cheesy silver frame. It’s pretty funny and plays on our expectations of a couple’s important visit to the mall. Other than scenes like that which have some actual comedy ingenuity, the movie feels choppy and badly paced, and the story goes nowhere. Roger Ebert gave it one star.

7. Bad Santa (2003) – Continuing the tradition of trashy mall movies, Bad Santa fits Billy Bob Thornton almost too well. His character is disgusting, rude and hilarious. He poses as a Santa to rob the mall, which doesn’t sound like a very good plan in my opinion. The trailer has all the good scenes and makes the movie seem a little better than it is. It’s not bad for a holiday change-of-pace, just really trashy. I’m not watching Billy Bob beat up a midget at any other time of the year but at Christmas.

6. Mannequin (1987) – This is a dumb movie but it has a great hook for a story. A guy falls in love with a mannequin that comes to life as a real live girl. It’s certainly unique, but it’s consumerist subtext is a product of its time, the fabulous 80s. The movie is mainly about finding the hidden female mannequin in a world of nondescript female mannequins, and I think there’s a lot of symbolism in there somewhere. The movie made 43 million on a budget of 8, and was wildly successful. The movie is supposed to be the modern retelling of the Pigmalion, an opera about a beautiful statue that comes to life. I feel an analysis might be in there somewhere.

5. Mallrats (1995) – Kevin Smith’s Mallrats or Clerks is genre defining. It puts the human trope right there in the title. What is a “mallrat”? What does that word even mean? The movie doesn’t try to answer those questions, instead relying on the “characters” to flesh out their trashy upbringing from shopping too much. They argue, fight, have sex, and beat up the Easter Bunny. It’s a comedy. I think Clerks is better, frankly.

4. Blues Brothers (1980) – Blues Brothers really has very little to do with malls or stores, but it sure trashes them like no tomorrow. The famous chase scene crashes through a mall and it’s one of the best parts of the movie. Elwood drives his crappy 1974 Dodge all over the road like my Grandma and tries to get away from the police, because the joke is that he’s got like 56 outstanding warrants. They smash into a toy store, run over all the mannequins and go hog wild, while the music sounds like its playing for the Marx Brothers. There’s a cameo from Steven Williams as a cop motivated to catch Elwood and Jake.

3. Police Story (1985) – This movie or Rush Hour is Jackie Chan’s best movie. Rush Hour is pretty much a buddy flick, but Police Story is all Jackie. Much like Blues Brothers, the best scene is set in a mall, but in Police Story, it’s a highly choreographed fight scene. It’s about ten minutes long and all the fluff that packs Blues Brothers is nowhere to be seen in this one, instead the scene starts with a high stakes chase where the Bad Guys ™ try to catch the Beautiful Woman ™, who witnessed their crime. Chan plays the hero, of course. No surprise, he beats them all up. The script injects little bits of exposition between each Jackie fight and that works well. Chan even kicks the slimy lawyer. Awesome.

2. Night of the Comet (1984) – This movie takes the mall hangout premise from Dawn of the Dead and puts an 80s twist on it. Two girls turn the melodrama up to 11 and the movie goes montage crazy, realizing what Dawn of the Dead did with its overindulgent craving for consumerism and shopping. So it’s the same Dawn of the Dead shopping scene just done a little differently. The girls put down their uzi and try on shoes. Hilarious. “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” plays over their shopping trip and they dance through Macy’s, then the dialogue drips with more irony as they discuss style. The scene pushes forward with a shootout.

Dawn of the Dead – This is the mother of all mall apocalypse consumerist metaphor movies. Every other movie that has a mall and has a metaphorical message is compared to Romero’s classic. I’ve always wondered why the blood and the gore is done in such a colorful way, from the bright red blood to the four color arena of the mall. What does that mean? Romero argued that the color of the blood complemented the comic book feel of the movie. The movie’s iconic setting plays a huge role in the legacy of the film and the film’s critique of consumerism is why it is still remembered today.

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