Pop Culture

Cinema du food court: Great mall movies

Statistics tell us that there are 0.2 malls for every 1,000 people in the United States; that’s equivalent to the per-capita numbers for restaurants, which must mean that shopping has become as vital as eating to Americans.

They’re also important to American movies — this year alone, we’ve had the surprise hit “Paul Blart: Mall Cop,” soon to be followed with a darker twist on somewhat similar material, “Observe and Report,” hitting theaters on April 10.

There are lots of great mall moments in movies — from the automotive rampage of “The Blues Brothers” and a near-death incident in “Clueless” to a would-be food-court conversion in “Saved!” and the poignant finale of “Superbad” — but the 10 films listed below (in no particular order) show us malls as social hubs, purveyors of identities and integral facets of American life. Grab a soft pretzel and an Orange Julius and meet me by the Waldenbooks.

“Fast Times at Ridgemont High”
In Amy Heckerling’s essential and hilarious examination of teenage dreams and heartbreak — based on the book by Cameron Crowe — the mall is the town square, the front stoop, the village green where everyone scopes each other out, flirts, fights and begins the chase anew. It’s one of the most honest movies about adolescence ever made, but no less funny for being so. Perhaps more poignant than the travails of Jennifer Jason Leigh’s character is the fact that the Sherman Oaks Galleria, where “Fast Times” was filmed, now looks nothing like the archetypal mall captured in the movie. (Get ready for this to become a recurring motif in this list, since thriving malls — like many of their patrons — endure constant face-lifts as the years go by.)

“Valley Girl”Another great screen moment for the Reagan-era Sherman Oaks Galleria was this popular love story about totally awesome Val Gal Julie (Deborah Foreman) who horrifies her friends by ditching her boyfriend and taking up with Hollywood punk Randy (Nicolas Cage). The mall is presented not just as the focal point for the Valley kids’ social life but also as a symbol of the shallow, materialistic life that Julie is presumably leaving behind for a relationship with the relatively gritty Randy. For what could have been a flat movie based on a hit song — see “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” — the intelligent and adorable “Valley Girl” marked a breakthrough for talented filmmaker Martha Coolidge.

“Chopping Mall”Also filmed at the Sherman Oaks Galleria, this horror epic pits horny teens against deadly security robots when four couples decide to stay after hours at the mall to party all night long. (It’s sort of a cross between “Friday the 13th” and “From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler.”) One of the young actresses is Kelli Maroney, who co-starred in “Night of the Comet,” a post-apocalyptic teen fantasy that had some memorable mall moments of its own.

“Bad Santa”Another movie where a mall becomes the backdrop for criminal doings is Terry Zwigoff’s hilariously anti-Christmas Christmas movie, where angry drunk Willie (Billy Bob Thornton, never better) takes annual gigs as a mall Santa so that he and his little-person sidekick (Tony Cox, who spends most of the film in an elf outfit) can case the place and rob it on Dec. 24. Given the film’s hilariously glaring political incorrectness, one suspects that the Del Amo Fashion Center in Torrance, Calif., might not trumpet the fact that the film was shot there. But now you know.

“Mallrats”

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    Actors arrive for the premiere of 'Zack and Miri Make a Porno' in Hollywood, California.

    Comedy’s new crew

    Seth Rogen, Jason Segel, Rashida Jones and Michael Cera are part of a band of funny men and women to hit theaters and TV screens.

  • Actors arrive for the premiere of 'Zack and Miri Make a Porno' in Hollywood, California.

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    Seth Rogen

    The new king of the R-rated comedy, Seth Rogen got his start on Judd Apatow's "Freaks and Geeks" as one of the "freaks," Ken Miller. He went on to appear in Apatow's other short-lived series, "Undeclared." Rogen's first film role came in "Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgandy," where he appeared as "eager cameraman." But, when pal Apatow cast Rogen in "The 40-Year-Old Virgin," he got his first taste of big-screen stardom. He's gone on to big success in "Knocked Up," "Superbad," Pineapple Express" and "Zack and Miri Make a Porno." His 2009 films are "Monsters vs. Aliens," "Funny People" and "Observe and Report." He co-wrote the script and will star in Michel Gondry's "The Green Hornet."

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    Jonah Hill

    Jonah Hill (right) may not have started out in the Apatow gang, but after a small role in "The 40-Year-Old Virgin," he was quickly made part of the go-to team. Hill has appeared in films as varied as "Rocket Science," Click" and "Strange Wilderness" (pictured at right with Justin Long). But he became a true leading man in 2007's "Superbad" as Seth, a high school boy determined to get alcohol for a party so he'll have a chance to lose his virginity to his dream girl. Hill has gone on to appear in films such as "Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story," "Forgetting Sarah Marshall" and "Horton Hears a Who!" His 2009 films are "Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian," "Funny People" and "This Side of Truth."

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  • Paul Rudd

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    Paul Rudd

    Most people probably remember Paul Rudd from his early role in 1995's "Clueless," but he didn't take the typical teen movie path after that. He appeared in the series "Sisters" and films as varied as "Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers" to "Romeo + Juliet" to "200 Cigarettes." But most people got a true sense of his comic ability in 2001's "Wet Hot American Summer." He went on to appear in "Friends," "Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy," "The Baxter" before finally joining the Apatow gang with "The 40-Year-Old-Virgin." Since then, he's appeared in many films, including, "Night at the Museum," "Knocked Up," "Forgetting Sarah Marshall" and "Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story." Since his roles in "Role Models" and "I Love You, Man," this actor has earned deserved leading-man status. His other 2009 films are "Year One" and "Monsters vs. Aliens."

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    Jason Segel

    Though he appeared in four movies prior to his stint as Nick Andopolis in "Freaks and Geeks," Jason Segel, (right) like Rogen, is really one of the founding members of the Apatow gang. Anyone who saw him as Eric, the obsessive boyfriend, in "Undeclared," knew that this actor had comedy chops. Though he's appeared in films over the years, including "Knocked Up," he didn't really become a leading man until he sat down and wrote his own starring vehicle, "Forgetting Sarah Marshall" (pictured at right with Jonah Hill in a scene from the film). His "I Love You, Man" bromance with Paul Rudd has only made his star rise more. And in addition to his film work he has a full time role in the CBS series "How I Met Your Mother."

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    Danny McBride

    Danny McBride didn't wait to be cast in his first big screen role, instead he made his own luck, co-writing and starring in 2006's "The Fist Foot Way." The actor quickly went on to roles in films, such as "Hot Rod," "Superbad," "The Heartbreak Kid," before really breaking out as a star in 2008, doing scene-stealing work in "Pineapple Express" and "Tropic Thunder." He's one of the co-creators and stars in the darkly hilarious HBO series, "Eastbound & Down" (pictured). His 2009 films are "Observe and Report" and "Land of the Lost."

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  • Leslie Mann

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    Leslie Mann

    Leslie Mann met husband Judd Apatow on the set of 2006's "The Cable Guy," her first big film role. She went on to appear in films such as "She's the One," "George of the Jungle," "Big Daddy" and "Orange County." Apatow then cast her as the sex-crazed and drunk Nicky in "The 40-Year-Old Virgin" and as Paul Rudd's controlling wife in "Knocked Up." Her 2009 films are "I Love You Phillip Morris," "17 Again," "Funny People" and "Shorts."

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    Romany Malco

    Romany Malco started as a rapper in the group College Boyz. His early film career included roles in films such as "The Wrecking Crew," "The Prime Gig and the TV show "Level 9." But he first earned some real stardom appearing in the title role in 2001's "Too Legit: The MC Hammer Story." In 2004, Judd Apatow cast him as Jay, one of Steve Carell's sexual gurus, in "The 40-Year-Old Virgin." He appeared as Mary-Louise Parker's business partner in "Weeds" from 2005 to 2007, and has appeared in films such as "Baby Mama," "Blades of Glory" and "The Love Guru." He appears in "Saint John of Las Vegas" in 2009.

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  • Elizabeth Banks

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    Elizabeth Banks

    Elizabeth Banks made her first real mark in comedy in 2001's "Wet Hot American Summer," in which she played Lindsay, Paul Rudd's neglected girlfriend. She went on to many roles in both film and television, including "Spider-Man," "Catch Me if You Can," "Seabiscuit" and "The Baxter," before being cast a girl that Steve Carell tries to pick up at a book store in "The 40-Year-Old Virgin." She went on to appear in a semi-regular role on "Scrubs," and to appear in films such as "Meet Dave" and "Fred Claus." But 2008 was Banks' breakthrough year with roles in "W.," "Role Models" and Zach and Miri Make a Porno." She appears in 2009's "The Uninvited."

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  • Russell Brand

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    Russell Brand

    Russell Brand was as star in the U.K. long before he caught fire in the U.S. A standup comic and radio DJ, Brand did a number of small roles in film and TV, inlcuding the U.K. series "Mud," "White Teeth" and "Penelope." He got his big U.S. break in 2008's "Forgetting Sarah Marshall" as Aldous Snow, a narcissistic pop star who romances Sarah. That same year, he hosted the MTV Video Music Awards and created controversy when he called then President George W. Bush, "a retarded cowboy fella." Brand will revive his Aldos Snow character for 2010's "Get Him to the Greek." He appears in 2009's "The Tempest."

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    Michael Cera

    Michael Cera started acting in 1999 and starred in a variety of projects, from "I Was a Sixth Grade Alien" to "Steal this Movie" to the TV series "Brace Face" to "Confessions of a Dangerous Mind," before signing on to play George-Michael Bluth in "Arrested Development" in 2003. In 2007, he really broke out with two critically acclaimed and popular roles in "Juno" and "Superbad." He's gone on to star in "Nick and Nora's Infinite Playlist" and "Extreme Movie." His 2009 roles include "Year One," "Paper Heart," "Youth and Revolt" and "Scott Pilgrim vs. the World." He has also signed on to star in the big-screen version of "Arrested Development."

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    Christopher Mintz-Plasse

    Christopher Mintz-Plasse was only 17 and had no professional acting experience when he was cast in the role of Fogell in "Superbad." He made quite an impact as the high school student who decides to get a fake I.D. with the name "McLovin." He went on to star opposite Paul Rudd in 2008's "Role Models." He appears in 2009's "Year One" with Michael Cera and the 2009 Nicolas Cage comedy, "Kick-Ass."

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    Rashida Jones

    Rashida Jones' first big role came on TV as Louisa in "Boston Public." She appeared in varied projects through the years including roles on TV's "Chappelle's Show," "Wanted," "NY-LON" and in films such as "The Ten" and "Little Black Book." Jones broke through with a role as Karen on "The Office." As John Kransinski's co-worker and girlfriend, she became a rival for Jenna Fischer. In 2009, she went back to TV with a role in Amy Poehler's "Parks and Recreation" and on the big screen opposite Paul Rudd in "I Love You, Man."

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  • Bill Hader

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    Bill Hader

    Bill Hader joined the cast of "Saturday Night Live" in 2005 and he's still a featured player. Though he may not have a familiar face, he's appeared in prominent roles in many comedies, including "Knocked Up," "Superbad" (probably his biggest role as Seth Rogen's cop partner), "The Brothers Solomon," "Forgetting Sarah Marshall," "Pineapple Express" and "Tropic Thunder." His 2009 roles include "Adventureland," "Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian" and "Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs."

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    Jane Lynch

    Acting in films and television since 1988, Lynch spent much of her early career doing TV guest spots before landing a role in Christopher Guest's 2000 comedy "Best in Show," in which she played a lesbian dog trainer. She continued to do TV guest spots and appeared in Guest's "A Mighty Wind" and "Little Black Book," before being cast as the electronics store manager who would like to de-virginize Steve Carell in "The 40-Year-Old Virgin." Since then, she's appeared in "Talladega Nights," "Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story," "The Rocker" and "Role Models." She also joined the cast of the "The L. Word" and regularly appeared on "Two and a Half Men" and co-stars in "Party Down." In 2009, she appears in "Mr. Troop Mom," "Julie & Julia," "The Post Grad Survival Guide" and the TV series "Glee."

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    John Krasinski

    John Krasinski had many small roles in film and television before landing his leading role as Jim Halpert on "The Office." Along with his "Office" job, he's appeared in films such as "Dreamgirls," "Jarhead," "License to Wed" and "Leatherheads." He makes his directorial debut in 2009 with the big-screen version of the David Foster Wallace book "Brief Interviews with Hideous Men." Krasinski also wrote the screenplay. In 2009, he also provides a voice in "Monsters vs. Aliens" and stars in Sam Mendes' comedy, "Away We Go" opposite Maya Rudolph. He's also signed on to the new Nancy Meyers ("Something's Gotta Give") film, which stars Meryl Streep.

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    Andy Samberg

    Andy Samberg joined the cast of "Saturday Night Live" in 2005 and is known for music video shorts such as "Lazy Sunday," "Jizz My Pants" and "Dick in a Box." He took his first starring role in 2007's "Hot Rod." He appeared as Paul Rudd's gay brother in 2009's "I Love You, Man." He continues to be part of the "SNL" crew and provides a voice for the animated film "Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs." His comedy group The Lonely Island also released an album in 2009 called "Incredibad."

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  • Amy Poehler

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    Amy Poehler

    Amy Poehler was a "Saturday Night Live" cast member from 2001 until 2008. She was known for impressions of Hillary Clinton, Katie Couric, Kelly Ripa and Ann Coulter. She was also one of the stars of the career-launching "Wet Hot American Summer" as well as starring on the "Upright Citizen's Brigade." She's appeared in films including "Mean Girls," "The Devil and Daniel Webster," "Baby Mama," "Blades of Glory," "Hamlet 2" and "Mr. Woodcock." In 2009, she provides a voice for "Monsters vs. Aliens" and stars in the new NBC series, "Parks and Recreation."

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    Steve Coogan

    English actor, comedian, writer and producer Steve Coogan is probably best known in the U.K. for his TV character Alan Patridge. The character appeared on four TV series and one radio show. His other U.K. series included "Coogan's Run," "Monkey Trousers," and "Dr. Terrible's House of Horrible." He's appeared in many films over the years, but broke through in America with his role as club promoter and record producer Tony Wilson in 2002's "24 Hour Party People." Since then, he's appeared in films including "Coffee and Cigarettes," "Around the World in 80 Days," "Night at the Museum," "Hot Fuzz," "Hamlet 2" and "Tropic Thunder." His 2009 films are "Safety Glass," "Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian" and "Eddie the Eagle."

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    Jessie Eisenberg

    Jessie Eisenberg's first role (left) was on the short-lived TV series "Get Real," which also featured a young Anne Hathaway. He made his first big impression opposite Campbell Scott in 2002's "Roger Dodger" and then scored critically again as a kid caught between warring parents in 2005's "The Squid and the Whale." He's also appeared in films including "The Village," "The Education of Charlie Banks" and "The Hunting Party." He stars in 2009's "Adventureland" (pictured at left with co-star Martin Starr.) His other 2009 films include "Camp Hope," "Holy Rollers" and "Solitary Man."

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    Martin Starr

    Martin Starr appeared as Bill Haverchuck, one of the geeks, in Judd Apatow's "Freaks and Geeks." Since then, he's appeared in a variety of projects including the TV series "Roswell," "Kicking and Screaming" and "Revelations." He rejoined the Apatow gang with "Knocked Up," in which he co-starred as Martin, Seth Rogen's housemate who makes a bet not to shave his beard. He's also appeared in "Superbad," "Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story" and "The Incredible Hulk." In 2009, he stars with Jesse Eisenberg in "Adentureland," and has a regular role on the TV series "Party Down."

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    Anna Faris

    Anna Faris scored her breakout role in the 2000 horror film parody "Scary Movie" and went on to smaller roles in the critically acclaimed films "Lost in Translation" and "Brokeback Mountain." In 2007, Faris guest-starred as herself on HBO's "Entourage." Movie audiences are sure to get a lot more familiar with the actress as she stars as the love interest of Seth Rogen's mall security guard in the new comedy "Observe and Report."

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Kevin Smith’s much-anticipated follow-up to “Clerks” died a quick death at the box office but has gone onto become a cult favorite among his fans. Jason Lee and Jeremy London play two slackers who spend the day at the mall trying to get their girlfriends back, ducking security guards and obnoxious retailers who resent the pair’s lack of a “shopping agenda.” Even though, like most of Smith’s early work, the film is set in New Jersey, he shot “Mallrats” at Minnesota’s Eden Prairie Center, a once-thriving shopping center that lost most of its business to the gargantuan Mall of America. The film parses the essential DNA of malls, down to differentiating the food court from free-floating “autonomous unit(s) for mid-mall snacking.”

“Scenes from a Mall”This Paul Mazursky comedy — featuring Woody Allen and Bette Midler as a couple whose longtime marriage implodes amid admissions of infidelity at the mall — gets a bad rap, but I’ve always been a fan. For one thing, Mazursky’s an underrated American filmmaker, and it’s fun to see Allen making a rare appearance in someone else’s movie. (It also helps that I saw it on the day of one of my own big breakups, so I could relate.) There’s some very funny stuff here, including one of the most unlikely lovemaking locations ever filmed — a multiplex theater that’s showing “Salaam Bombay!” “Scenes” is set in L.A., but to accommodate the West Coast-phobic Allen, most of the interiors were shot at the Stamford Town Center in Stamford, Conn.

“Dawn of the Dead”Both the 1978 (filmed at Monroeville Mall, Monroeville, Pa.) and 2004 (the no-longer-standing Thornhill Square Mall, Thornhill, Ontario) versions make use of malls to equate unthinking consumerism with being a zombie. (“This was an important place in their lives,” observes a character in the original, theorizing as to why the undead would congregate at a shopping center.) Both films also take full advantage of a mall as the modern equivalent to a cavalry outpost — they’re secure, loaded with supplies, and one could comfortably stay inside for months. Think about it: Would you rather hole up in a fallout shelter or in a Mrs. Field’s Cookies?

“Logan’s Run”While not a mall per se, this vision of the future in a domed city (the actual location was the Dallas Market Center) feels like living in a mall, where people always have access to shopping, sex and plastic surgery. There’s one little catch, however — once you turn 30, you have to participate in the ritual of Carousel, which is sold to the masses as a way of reincarnation but is really just a method for curbing the excess population.

“True Stories”In the way that Robert Altman used the city of Nashville as a prism by which to examine the American experience post-Watergate, David Byrne traveled to Texas to use the Lone Star State as a microcosm for what was happening in all 50. One of the film’s bravura segments — introduced with a title card that reads “Shopping is a Feeling” — takes Byrne’s narrator character through the shopping mall in the fictional town of Virgil, Texas (actually Dallas’s since-remodeled NorthPark Mall), for an unforgettable fashion show and the intermingling of all the townspeople. “People here are inventing their own system of beliefs. They’re creating it, doing it, selling it, making it up as they go along,” notes a deadpan Byrne. “Driving. Not only driving — but parking.”

“Dr. T and the Women”Altman’s Dallas is as dead-on its own way as Byrne’s in this 2000 dramedy starring Richard Gere as a Big D gynecologist who’s helpless when it comes to dealing with the women in his life. The film’s bravura opening sequence features Farrah Fawcett having a mental breakdown in the NorthPark Mall fountain, but the entire scene plays like an amped-up version of the famous supermarket ballet at the end of “The Stepford Wives.” For many of the women in Altman’s film, shopping isn’t just a feeling — it’s their only way of feeling. No wonder Gere’s Dr. T has to get the hell out of the United States to make any sense of his life; he’s got to escape all the damn malls.

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