Severin Films // 1994 // 105 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Gordon Sullivan // February 16th, 2011
Crash & Carry
The 1990s were the decade where Miramax (and others) demonstrated there was a broad, international audience for "independent" film. Numerous directors and actors got their starts because of the sudden increased profitability of distributing these kinds of films. The 1990s were also the decade where the mostly optimistic teen angst films of John Hughes gave way to a number of more nihilist interpretations with films like Pump Up the Volume and Trainspotting. Presented in the heat of this remarkable decade but given little attention at the time, Shopping is the debut of British director Paul W.S. Anderson, who would later achieve a certain level of fame helming video game adaptations. It's a middling film from a genre auteur who would eventually learn to do more with bigger budgets.
In the near-future, dystopian Britain, Billy (Jude Law, The Talented Mr. Ripley) is released from jail but isn't rehabilitated. He immediately goes back to his old ways of stealing cars with his girlfriend (Sadie Frost, Dracula). In this future, all the rebellious kids will engage in "ram-raiding," a.k.a. "shopping," where a stolen car is driven into the window of a store and the contents are then seized by the thieves. Being involved in this world entangles Billy with both the law (represented by Jonathan Pryce, Brazil) and the darker criminal elements of Tommy (Sean Pertwee, Dog Soliders).
Shopping should be a simple slam-dunk. It's got a pretty effective dystopian world, some amazing actors, the fun concept of "ram-raiding," and some decent car stunts to help it along. Sadly, though, Shopping never quite gets the traction it desires from these elements.
The major problem with Shopping is that it can't quite decide what it wants to be when it grows up. With the exception of Event Horizon, Paul W.S. Anderson has been more than content to let action reign in his films. From Resident Evil to Alien vs. Predator and on to his remake of Death Race, each film is designed for maximum action pleasure with plenty of gunplay, explosions, and carnage. Not so much with Shopping. I'm sure a large part of the issue is budgetary constraints, so Anderson can't let loose like he'd obviously like to. Sure there are some interesting scenes of car chases and some ram-raiding to be had, but they're few and far between in this 105-minute feature.
Also, it's not all down to a first-time director not having the budget to unleash the carnage he'd like to. The problems extend all the way down to the script, which also can't quite decide if it wants to be a breathless action piece or a bit of social commentary. The movie tries to say something about rebellion, feeling trapped in a small town, and the pressures of family, but all that feels terribly disconnected from the action moments and even the general idea of criminality of these kids. The film might be trying something new, creating an action film that isn't afraid to wrestle with the big questions, but if that's the case then the disconnect between the existential moments and the action is even more pronounced.
While we're on the topic of the negative, I have to single out Sadie Frost's accent. Usually I'm one to let sleeping dogs lie with that sort of thing, and I enjoy her work in other films, but her almost-Irish accent here is grating. It's uneven and seems unnecessary in the context of the film, and more importantly constantly pulled me out of the narrative during the crucial early moments where connections with these characters need to be established.
With the exception of Sadie Frost's accent, the rest of the acting (including her performance) is uniformly impressive. This film is Jude Law's first, and it's not hard to see why he went from independent British films to major international star. Jonathan Pryce is his usual smooth self, confidently embodying the law for young Billy. Sean Pertwee is surprisingly menacing as thug Tommy, and a number of smaller roles are filled out by the likes of Sean Bean, Marianne Faithfull, and Jason Isaacs. For a low-budget first film, the cast is amazing.
Although I'm not completely impressed by the marriage of action and social commentary in Shopping, the action itself is pretty strong. There are some interesting stunts, a number of fun nighttime car chases, and the ram-raiding leaves enough carnage in its wake to be visually interesting. It's certainly easy to connect the car chases in Shopping to the eventual remake of Death Race, even if the lower budget of this film keeps some of the stunts from reaching their full potential.
For a film no one was clamoring for on DVD, Shopping gets a solid release. I didn't detect any serious compression or authoring problems, but the print itself looks a little washed out and dirty. Whether this is caused by age or directorial intent is hard to determine, but in either case the film is still watchable. The 5.1 surround track does a decent job, keeping dialogue audible in the center and using the surrounds for the occasional car chase ambience.
Extras start with a commentary by Paul W.S. Anderson and producer Jeremy Bolt. The pair have fond remembrances of making Shopping and they dish on the film's genesis and production, also reserving some praise for their actors. The next feature is a interview with Anderson and Bolt again. This is a little more broad discussion by both parties, though some info is repeated. We also get a promotional EPK from the film's initial release that combines footage from the film with interviews featuring the actors and director. Finally, the disc includes the film's trailer, which did everything possible to sell the anarchic action.
Shopping, as others have noted, is probably going to be famous primarily for introducing the world to Jude Law (and, to a lesser extent, Paul W.S. Anderson). For Jude Law completists or those who love Anderson's other work, this flick is certainly worth a rental. Fans of action-oriented cinema might also want to give the film a look, but for most viewers the few charms of the film will be outweighed by its long running time and inability to hit a consistent tone.
For introducing Jude Law to the world, Shopping is not guilty.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Severin Films
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 105 Minutes
Release Year: 1994
MPAA Rating: Not Rated