This nice little movie takes almost entirely place in the title music store, an independent which has been there since 1959. It’s run by Joe (Anthony LaPaglia), a thirysomething rocker who’s real cool to his young employees, he’s like their buddy. But business doesn’t give a rat’s ass about care, and the store’s owner is about to sell it to the gargantuesque Music Town chain. That pushes freewheeling cashier Lucas (Rory Cochrane) to “borrow” the day’s profits and drive to Vegas to gamble it and get the money to save Empire Records. Of course it doesn’t work at all and he loses it all. The film is about the following day, as we get to know the staff and watch them talk hip dialogue, try and rebel against the Man, party and play some real loud music. There’s also a visit by a cheesy, sub-Robert Palmer pop rock crooner, and the necessary fights, reconciliation and clumsy attempts at romance.
Okay, nothing exceptional here. There isn’t much of a plot, besides a bunch of little conflicts or problems that we know are gonna be gone by the credits. The film is all over the place and doesn’t really get anywhere. Quebec born and raised director Allan Moyle shows very little of the intelligence and originality he put in his brilliant “Pump Up the Volume”, but his latest is still rather dynamic and enjoyable. That’s probably because of the youthful, enthusiastic cast which puts snap in the otherwise flat material. Most of the young stars are newcomers, but they’re good. I liked Ethan Embry as the fun-loving hipster Mark and Robin Tunney as Debra the shaved-head Goth chick, and the confused shoplifter who pretends he’s Warren Beatty is an unexpected addition. But for my money, the film belongs to gorgeous Liv Tyler and Renee Zellwegger as, respectively, apple pie girl-next-door Corey who’s tired to be the good girl and Gina, a wrong-side-of-the-tacks slut who’s not as careless as she seems to be. Tyler and Zellwegger are hotter than hell, but they also have real charisma and they’re promising talents. So basically, “Empire Records” is little more than a poor man’s “Clerks”, but an entertaining one.