Shoplifters of the World, 2021.
Written and Directed by Stephen Kijak.
Starring Joe Manganiello, Ellar Coltrane, Helena Howard, Elena Kampouris, Nick Krause, James Bloor, Olivia Luccardi, Cameron Moulène, Abby Awe, Tonatiuh, Thomas Lennon, Celia Au, and Imani Lewis.
1987. Denver, Co. One crazy night in the life of four friends reeling from the sudden demise of iconic British band The Smiths, while the local airwaves are hijacked at gunpoint by an impassioned Smiths fan.
Reading the plot synopsis for Shoplifters of the World is a world apart from actually experiencing the film. I suppose the same could be said about plenty of movies, but for a story centered on a once suicidal and still depressed record store clerk named Dean (played by Ellar Coltrane, continuing to have a disappointing acting career following the unprecedentedly ambitious Boyhood) who decides to take a radio station hostage by pointing a loaded gun at DJ Full Metal Mickey (a heavily tattooed Joe Manganiello rocking an Alice Cooper T-shirt) to force the station to play The Smiths (so the supposedly uncultured masses can appreciate real music or some nonsense like that), it’s not as serious or heavily involved with mental health as a movie probably should be that’s essentially about young adults losing their shit over the band deciding to break up in the summer of 1987.
Writer/director Stephen Kijak (he has dabbled in documentaries on musicians such as Lynyrd Skynyrd and the Backstreet Boys, clearly attempting a unique angle here towards acknowledging and celebrating a band’s art and the influence their lyrics can have on the youth, that just simply doesn’t work here) has at least three different movies on his mind here inside a scant 90 minute running time.
The first is, as previously mentioned, Dean coping with the breakup of The Smiths by taking extreme measures to get their music heard more, that’s mostly played off as a non-threatening scenario despite a shot being fired at one point and police showing up only to be waived off in such a ludicrous fashion that it’s nigh impossible to tell what tone the movie is going for. Nevertheless, as we continue to get glimpses of the conversation between the two over the long night, there is a mildly intriguing discussion on the divide between different genres of rock music, the individual value of both commercial and artistic intent, and of all things, animal-rights (The Smiths had written songs encouraging green eating and celibacy, among a number of other things that come into play with other characters). Tonal confusion aside, it’s relatively easy to get behind the message of musical unity.
Simultaneously, a group of four friends is celebrating a major night (they are also freaking out at the breakup of The Smiths) as one of them, Billy (Nick Krause), is getting ready to join the Army. His good friend Cleo (Helena Howard, another promising young talent absolutely not worth the time and energy of this project) has plans of leaving Denver for Paris and making something of her life, also escaping a life of boredom and financial restriction that’s never really dived into. The other members are Patrick and Sheila (James Bloor and Elena Kampouris respectively), a couple unsure of whether they are right to stay together. She is academically impressive but also wants to start living a more exciting life and exploring her sexuality. Meanwhile, he doesn’t really care about sex and might not even be heterosexual.
The narrative takes turns giving these characters the spotlight but ends up saying or exploring nothing interesting about any of them. They learn predictable things about themselves as songs from The Smiths complement everything, occasionally with documentary lite footage of the band tossed in to unnecessarily further explain the connection between artist and consumer. By far the strangest aspect of Shoplifters of the World is that Cleo actually frequents the record store Dean works at, so there’s also a forced love story in here that concludes with absurdity.
Shoplifters of the World wants to be a coming-of-age story underneath a hostage situation that never comes across as endearing or playful as Stephen Kijak seems to think it does. None of the characters emerge as worth caring about. A good amount of effort has gone into re-creating the wardrobe style and look of the 1980s, and the actors are decent for the most part (save for Ellar Coltrane who is consistently flat and lifeless), but that’s where the good times stop. That goes even if you are a fan of The Smiths, who will also come away puzzled and bored.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com