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  • Nate Adams

Review: Dramedy 'Shoplifters of the World' not a fitting tribute to The Smiths

Courtesy of RLJE Films


Documentarian Stephen Kijak - who’s made non-fiction fare about Backstreet Boys and The Stones - steps into the realm of feature length films with an ode to British indie band The Smiths. Touching on their break-up in the fall of 1988, Kijak’s “Shoplifters of the World” – the name of a popular Smiths song – tries to radiate a “Dazed and Confused” vibe with several characters and subplots vying for attention. Whereas “Dazed” managed to successfully intertwine its ideas into one cohesive vision, “Shoplifters of the World” never achieves lift-off.

Part of that is the timing and considering The Smiths frontman Morrissey’s insensitive rhetoric on race and immigration, only die-hard fans will seek out “Shoplifters of the World.” And as someone who never heard of The Smiths prior to this film, Kijak’s approach doesn't offer a warm embrace. Unlike “The Sparks Brothers“ which introduced Sparks into my life and had me clamoring for more records.

Taking place on a singular day, moments after The Smiths announce their split, Ellar Coltrane’s Dean, a lowly record store clerk who found solace in the band’s eclectic style, decides to hold radio DJ Full Metal Mickey (a fully tatted Joe Manganiello) hostage until he plays the entire Smiths catalog on-air. The other chunk of “Shoplifters” finds Cleo (Helena Howards) and her squad of friends dealing with the break-up in a more conventional way: drinking and partying while blasting the band’s music from the rooftops. Kijak intermittently cuts back and forth between the two storylines trying to create a sense of community but it never translates. A half-baked romance between Cleo and Dean doesn’t expand beyond the first scene, and the noticeable lack of camaraderie among the main brigade undercuts the free-flowing attitude of teenagers trying to score drugs and sex.

On paper, “Shoplifters of the World” had the right ingredients, but the inherent lack of personality or exploration into who The Smiths were only creates confusion. The two dueling narratives, suffice to say, don’t push the needle nor make us care enough to stay engaged. Which begs the question: if this movie alienates The Smiths fans and won’t appeal to general moviegoers – who will it work for?

Grade: D+

RLJE Films will release SHOPLIFTERS OF THE WORLD in Theaters and on Digital and On Demand on Friday, March 26, 2021.


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