Shoplifters of the World is bad enough that all it really accomplishes is a reminder of how great The Smiths were.
Set in 1987, Stephen Kijak’s Shoplifters of the World follows four friends on what might be both the most catastrophic day of their young lives so far — the day The Smiths broke up — and also the most interesting night, with a passionate Smiths fan taking a local radio DJ hostage and forcing him to play the band’s greatest hits all night long. The quartet drift from party to party, followed everywhere by Morrissey’s dulcet tones, their goals and half-formed identities colliding as they struggle with who they are in the wake of the disintegration of a band that helped shape their own understanding of their lives.
So far, so good — while a film like this might not appeal on the strength of its synopsis alone, given the iconic music at its center and the familiar coming-of-age framework, Shoplifters of the World has plenty of promise. Originally boasting an impressive ensemble cast including Will Poulter and Thomas Brodie-Sangster, and with Kijak a director well-acquainted with films centering on both music and obsessive personalities, expectations were high. However, nine years and several recasts later, what remains of that considerable potential is effectively a 90-minute music video. Glimpses of the film that might have been are glimpsed in this aesthetic, and in Joe Manganiello’s performance as Full Metal Mickey, the hostage radio-host. Also acting as a producer on the film, Manganiello strikes the comedic tone that the rest of the film is sorely lacking, balancing over-the-top dialogue with a sincere insight into the hero worship and music-obsessive ethos that the rest of the characters are contending with, and his scenes are by far the most watchable. The rest of the cast are left with lines that wouldn’t feel out of place in a cheap jukebox musical — cringe-worthy, of course, but lacking the charm that often makes those films so enjoyable. The script might have gotten away with more if the actors ever seemed certain as to whether they want us to laugh at or with these characters — more often than not, the result is the former.
Given its fantastic, built-in soundtrack and music-video aesthetics, Shoplifters of the World could conceivably become a trashy cult classic, but that still says little about its quality. As written, the film blurs the line between campy melodrama and something altogether more sincere, and despite having undoubtedly good bones, it distinctly fails to live up to its promise. There’s little here that’s memorable, and it’s never a great sign when it’s hard to even ascertain which disappointing element of the production is most to blame. Maybe the only thing to be said for it is that it achieves one of the key aims of any music-based movie of this ilk — you’re sure to leave Shoplifters of the World remembering just how brilliant The Smiths were.
Published as part of Before We Vanish | March 2021.