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Malls have long been a great setting for film, the widespread diversity and opportunity for interaction making them almost reflective of humanity itself with many movies giving the stores and employees the widest range of personalities. From comedies to horror to everything in-between, retail has become established as a go-to spot for a little slice of life.
With Camera Store, that mall is in upstate New York on Christmas Eve in 1994 and centers on a small but profitable shop on the second floor that has been operating for almost 25 years under the management of Ray LaPine (John Larroquette), a cynical but enterprising man who is struggling to keep the place thriving as digital photography is about to boom and the higher-ups want sales only on the mark-up units like film rather than equipment. He has plans to expand per se but is held back at seemingly every turn as the world around him evolves. With him is long-time employee (and failed actor) Pinky Steuben (John Rhys-Davies), and young new temp hire Pete (Justin Lieberman) who both live in the shadow of a man haunted by a heavy past and a changing future closing in around him.
Written and directed by Scott Marshall Smith, Camera Store is as much a filmed stage play as it is a movie, the dialogue and movement more that of live theater than something for the screen. With nary a note of music, save for an occasional Christmas tune and some low-key orchestral bits, the movie is a non-stop talky driven by its words rather than its premise as we come to learn about the dark life of Ray LaPine. He is the globe by which all others orbit but there are other stories of course, including a young woman named Penny (Maddie McCormick), a runaway-type girl scurrying about the mall who comes upon important events and Felix (Joey Folsom) the mall manager with barely a grip on the place among others, though everything comes back to Ray.
Larroquette has always had a larger than life presence about him, his size and stature intimidating and yet often humorous. Here, he is appropriately weathered and deflective, Ray a man tormented by a tragedy in his past that lingers about him like a cloud but also scarred by the betrayal of his former business partner Bibideaux (Paul Ben-Victor) and ex-wife Alma (Cheryl Ladd). The film succeeds best from time spent with Larroquette, the parallels to Dicken’s A Christmas Tale not lost on Smith or the character who even mentions the story at one point. It’s not that Ray is a Scrooge, it’s that life has turned him sour.
A length film at nearly two hours, the movie does suffer from some excess, with the subplot of Penny never really panning out as well as it could and there are pacing issues that bloat the middle, and yet, it does crackle once invested in the style and setup. Reminiscent of a David Mamet production, sans the bevy of profanity, the movie has an urgency about it that clicks for most of it, even if it is unconventional in its approach. Not for everyone, Camera Store is a solid experiment levied by a great lead performance and some fine direction.
Movie description: Camera Store is a 2017 dark comedy/drama about a store on the eve of film to digital and the people within who must make the transition in more ways than one.
Director(s): Scott Marshall Smith
Actor(s): John Rhys-Davies, Laura Silverman, Cheryl Ladd