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Site created 12/15/97.

review added: 4/9/01

Empire Records
1995 (2001) - Regency/Warner Bros. (Warner)

review by Greg Suarez of The Digital Bits

Enhanced for 16x9 TVs

Empire Records Film Rating: B-

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): C-/C/D-

Specs and Features

90 mins, PG-13, letterboxed widescreen (2.35:1), 16x9 enhanced, single-sided, single-layered, Snapper case packaging, cast profiles, theatrical trailer, film-themed menu screens, scene access (28 chapters), languages: English and French (DD 5.1), subtitles: English, French, Spanish and Portuguese, Closed Captioned

Lucas: "Warren, look what you took: Rap... Metal... Rap... Metal... Rap... Metal... Whitney Houston?"

Warren: "It's for my girlfriend."

Lucas: "Sure it is…"

Empire Records is a day-in-the-life story, featuring a group of young, hip record store employees who are trying to save their independently-owned store from becoming part of a faceless corporate chain. When goofy night manager Lucas (Rory Cochran) accidentally stumbles onto the owner's plans to turn Empire Records into a Music Town franchise, he ventures to Atlantic City in attempt to parlay the day's receipts of $9,100 into enough money for store manager Joe (Anthony LaPaglia) to buy the business from the smarmy owner. But when Lucas loses all of the money, calamity ensues and the plan for the store's transformation becomes evident to the rest of the employees. What Lucas didn't know, was that Joe was keeping the buy-out a secret because he was saving money to buy the business anyway. But by covering Lucas' mistake, he won't have enough for the purchase. Joe and the Empire gang must come up with a way to recover the $9,100 and save their business before Music Town invades their lives. There are several more subplots involved in the story, but that's really the crux of the film.

Empire Records is amusing, but it does have its share of problems. There's a glaring plot hole or two that made me scratch my head and, sometimes, the movie doesn't make much sense. Don't go looking for a deeply intriguing plot or a serious philosophical message - Empire Records is simply about having a fun time. And a talented cast helps make this film enjoyable. Liv Tyler, Renée Zellweger and Robin Tunney are probably the biggest names here and, given the relative shallowness of the script, each actress does a fine job of injecting her very different character with a unique personality. Rounding out the cast of notable store employees are Rory Cochran (a fine, yet underrated actor who you'll remember from Dazed and Confused), Johnny Whitworth and Ethan Embry as Mark, a funny, energetic employee (who reminds me of a modern day court jester). If you don't go into this movie expecting too much (other than maybe a good time and a fun cast), you won't be disappointed. For what it is, this is a very entertaining film.

The anamorphic widescreen picture looks to be sourced from an older, NTSC composite master, as it's softer than the better DVD transfers and contains some analog noise. The video only looks marginally better on DVD than it does on laserdisc. Colors tend to have a slight red push, but are otherwise fine. And the master is generally free from blemishes. Overall, this is just an average presentation, but the anamorphic presentation makes it watchable.

On the audio side, the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack does a fairly good job of reproducing all of the songs in the film, but ambiance is lacking. Rear speaker activity is either very quiet or nonexistent, and the entire soundfield collapses to almost mono during dialog-heavy passages.

The only extras to be found on this DVD are the film's theatrical trailer and some cast profiles. Note that most of the cast is listed in the profiles section (along with the director, writer and producers), but you're only able to access the profiles for a handful of them. Why list the rest of the cast if you're not going to give information about them? Silly.

Empire Records is a simple film with its share of problems, but the cast makes it funny and engaging. Even with the lack of features and a less than perfect transfer, the reasonable SRP of $19.95 makes it an easy purchase if you're inclined to replace the full frame version you recorded off of HBO.

Greg Suarez

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