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Directed by Paul W.S. Anderson

Severin Films/MPI Media Group

Before he was Mr. Milla Jovovich, before he became a bankable genre director with Mortal Kombat, Resident Evil, and AVP: Alien vs. Predator, and before he added the “W.S.” middle initials to differentiate himself from that Yank auteur Paul Thomas Anderson, writer/director Paul Anderson helmed this gritty portrait of alienated urban youth. Jude Law, looking that impish variety of working-class pretty found in duotone photos on the covers of Smiths 12-inch singles, made his feature film debut as Billy, a young British hoodrat who is just getting out of the clink when the movie opens and proceeds to do what landed him there in the first place. His friend Jo (Sadie Frost) picks him up in a car, they rear-end a much nicer BMW, and then they boost it when the driver gets out. This is his MO: crash car into something, such as another auto or a store’s plate-glass windows, and make off with the goods. The cops, led by Conway (Jonathan Pryce), call it ram-raiding. Billy and his mates have a much more colorful term for it: “shopping.”

Anderson didn’t have Resident Evil money or effects for this, his debut effort, but his eye for the flamboyant detail and dramatic image is already pretty finely honed: After Billy discovers he’s not welcome back at his high-rise apartment with his dad, he and Jo abscond to a camper nearby and talk in an abandoned car. Anderson shoots this tête-à-tête overheard, making them look as if they’re huddled in derelict technology—a perfect visual suggestion of the world in which they live.

Shopping is filled with such obvious details, but it’s still a pretty rote excursion with little to say. It’s more fun to think about as one of those nouveau indie juvenile delinquent flicks that cropped up from all over the world in the early to mid-1990s: Trainspotting was still two years off when Shopping was made, and Anderson was already tapping into clubland electronic music for scenes and soundtrack. Shopping’s dystopian tone and youthful brio, though, have more in common with Geoffrey Wright’s Romper Stomper and underseen Metal Skin, Bill Bennet’s Kiss or Kill, Hanif Kureishi’s London Kills Me, and the Hughes brothers’ Menace II Society, movies about young people trying to carve something for themselves out of a culture that appears to have little use for or interest in them.

Plus, the cast is filled with now-familiar British actors before they became recognizable. Sean Pertwee shows up as a rival shopper with some organized crime ties, Sean Bean sleepwalks through his bit as the heavy in a suit, Marianne Faithfull shows up to be, basically, Marianne Faithfull, and Jason Isaacs turns up in an oversized baseball cap as a street-level hustler of stolen goods. Hollow, but Anderson at least makes that ride to nowhere entertaining.

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