Empire Records was one of those films that gained cult status in the video store I worked in when the film was released to, yup, VHS. My staff loved it, and it would go into high rotation as something played in the store.
Set in a music store, the film is set over the course of twenty-four hours as we explore the lives of the store employees and the fate of the store itself as it may be turned into a big chain music store instead of maintaining its independence.
Things get underway when Lucas (Rory Cochrane) closes the store and heads to Vegas with the day’s earnings and loses it all. Just as the store’s manager, Joe (Anthony LaPaglia), was going to use it and some of his own capital to become a partner with Mitch (Ben Bode), who is intent on selling the store to Music Town.
As the team learns what Lucas has done, some of their own personal issues begin to surface at the store. There’s Corey (Liv Tyler) who is driven to perfection and wants her first time to be with iconic has been music star Rex Manning (Maxwell Caulfield) who will be in the store that day for a signing. She also has a pill addiction.
Gina (Renee Zellweger) lives in fear of who she wants to be and consequently acts out in different ways. Debra (Robin Tunney) is suffering from depression and can’t figure out what to do with her life. A.J. (Johnny Whitworth) wants to be an artist and is in love with Corey, and Marc (Ethan Embry) wants to start a band but is incredibly goofy.
Featuring great tunes, great dialogue, and customer interactions, including a shoplifter (Brendan Sexton III) that keeps coming back this one resonated with anyone who worked in retail stores like music or video.
I hadn’t watched this one since the last time we played it in the store, probably before the turn of the century, but I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it (and not to mention how much of the dialogue I recalled just from its constant rotation in the store’s playlist).
It’s a tightly paced film, originally the narrative was set over two days, but editing and removal of some character arcs reduced it to one twenty-four-hour period, and a ninety-minute runtime. It’s a slick, fastly paced film, but you have to wonder what would happen with a longer cut and more character moments.
And this cast was perfect for the place and time. It remains a lot of fun, and it looks like it was a lot of fun to shoot, and that energy spills off the screen and it sends me down memory lane with nostalgia for times past.