Somebody really, really wants to be the next Kevin Smith. Only without the shamelessly funny toilet humor. Or pop culture-spouting characters. Or sly moments of insight. In other words, writer-director Jameel Khan probably thought Clerks was really the shit and decided to give it the 'ol college try with his oddly sweet yet joke-starved take on minimum-wage irreverence.
Though the title suggests a Mall Rats approach to suburban strip-mall culture, The Strip almost exclusively centers on the sad sack, misfit twentysomethings who work at EletriCity, a poor man's version of Radio Shack. There's the dim-witted slacker, the awkward Indian immigrant, the manager going through a middle-age crisis (The Kids in the Hall's Dave Foley), the wannabe actor, Rick, who has delusions of grandeur about his talents and masculinity, and our college-educated protagonist, Kyle, who's oh-so Zach Braff-esque in his desire to please Dad (the store's owner) while trying to "find" himself. As you might expect, the dudes shun all semblance of adult behavior.
Unfortunately, Khan's film shuns any semblance of drama or narrative wit. Instead it heaps on one cliché after another, letting its barely sketched characters drift in and out of various comedic situations. A few of the jokes hit — especially Rick's morning-after scene with a bar girl he picked up — but the film is mostly plotted like a sitcom and the dialogue never rises above likably amusing (when it's not amateurishly predictable). The film's biggest surprise is Khan's innocent and good-natured approach to his story and characters. Unlike the work of his idols, there's none of the misogynistic locker-room teasing that Smith or Judd Apatow trade in. And despite his focus on arrested masculinity, The Strip mostly lives up to its squeaky clean PG-13 rating.
Intentional or not, The Strip manages to capture the depressing cheap-at-any-cost malaise that infects shapeless suburban communities. And because of Khan's obvious affection for his characters, it's clear that he sees "the strip" as a blight on each of their souls. If only he created interesting enough characters for us to give a damn.
Jeff Meyers writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.