Blu-ray Review: Shoplifters of the World

By , Contributor
Sometimes you take a shot in the dark on an indie flick you know absolutely nothing about. Case in point: Shoplifters of the World. I did not know the title comes from a song by The Smiths. I did not, until examining the cover art, know that the film is chock full of Smiths' songs. Set in 1987, the day after news breaks that The Smiths have broken up, Shoplifters follows a day (and night) in the life of a group of the hardest-core teengage Smiths fans one could imagine. They're devastated over their fave band's breakup. One wants to do something important with her life. One is going into the military. One decides to hold a heavy metal station's DJ at gunpoint in order to get him to play Smiths music all night.

This shouldn't come as a shocker—they more into The Smiths you are, the more likely you are to love Shoplifters of the World. I happen to not only know much about The Smiths, what I do know of them isn't really my bag. The movie didn't do much to change my mind. As an '80s kid who had a lot of friends who crossed over into different music fandoms, I knew some ardent Smiths fans. But it just isn't my sound. Doesn't move me. I don't care for Morrissey's vocals. But for anyone who loves The Smiths, the movie probably warrants a viewing.

That said, it would be easier to like Shoplifters as a non-Smiths if only the characters were more sharply drawn. They're a pretentious lot (brings back memories of some of the Smiths faithful that I grew around), expounding endlessly on why their idols are the only band whose music truly matters. The dialogue doesn't really stick to the ribs, however, making these young friends difficult to become emotionally invested in. Whether or not you like Bruce Springsteen, the main character in Blinded by the Light is likeable and ingratiating enough to make up for any ignorance of (or even outright distaste for) The Boss' music. But the shared personality trait of these Smiths fan is their general annoyingness.

As for hijacking a metal station in order to celebrate/mourn The Smiths, it apparently is an almost-true element of the story. The film is based on "good intentions," an opening title tells us. Back in '88, a Smiths obsessive actually sought to carry out this play but was arrested in the parking lot of the Denver station he was planning to forcibly take over. There's also a really funny and underrated (and today, seemingly forgotten) movie called Airheads (1994). It's about a power metal trio that hijacks a station in order to get their demo played. The DJ in Shoplifters recalls the DJ in Airheads (Joe Mantegna)—both turn out to be hipper than their captors anticipated.

Airheads was savaged by critics back in '94 and bombed at the box office. It is, however, an astoundingly effective satirical comedy with a top-notch cast that included Adam Sandler in an early big-screen role. My favorite thing about Shoplifters of the World is that it reminded me of Airheads, how good it is, and how much it's worth revisiting. If you haven't seen Airheads, I'd highly recommend it over Shoplifters of the World. Unless you're a big fan of The Smiths.

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Chaz Lipp writes for The Morton Report.

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