"Empire Records" is a soundtrack album in search of a movie. It's not so much a film as a series of random scenes connected by pop songs concerning a record store so hip that spontaneous dancing routinely breaks out in the aisles and so cool that the easiest way to get a job there is to come in and fire a few rounds from a gun.
Joe (Anthony LaPaglia) runs the shop like a patient father overseeing a brood of misfits--his troubled teen charges spend more time in the back gabbing than working the registers.
In one day, Joe and his gang of lovable louts must prevent the store from being turned into part of a soulless chain; host a smarmy former heartthrob's autograph session; dance; recoup $9,000 lost in an employee's unmotivated jaunt to Atlantic City; host an impromptu bash; teach a shoplifter a dubious lesson; dance yet some more; and sort out the sundry psychological and romantic traumas plaguing anyone with a speaking part.
Warner Bros. is displaying little faith in this, slipping it into but a single theater locally (screenwriter Carol Heikkinen's previous film, "The Thing Called Love," received an unenthusiastic regional release that bypassed L.A. altogether).
The biggest audience laugh at a recent showing came when a guy deadpanned, "This movie speaks for our generation." The sun can't set too soon on this "Empire."
* MPAA-rating: PG-13, for "sexual situations, language and a drug issue." Times guideline: Saying this movie deals with "issues" gives it too much credit.
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Anthony LaPaglia: Joe
Maxwell Caulfield: Rex
Debi Mazar: Jane
Liv Tyler: Corey
Regency Enterprises presents a New Regency/Alan Riche and Tony Ludwig production, released by Warner Bros. Director Allan Moyle. Producer Arnon Milchan, Michael Nathanson, Alan Riche, Tony Ludwig. Screenplay by Carol Heikkinen. Cinematographer Walt Lloyd. Editor Michael Chandler. Costumes Susan Lyall. Production design Peter Jamison. Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes.
* Exclusive engagement at Westwood's Mann Plaza.