In “Shoplifters of the World,” a group of friends in Denver band together out of love for their favorite group, The Smiths. Already, their lives are starting to change—one friend is going into the military because his parents told him to, a couple in the group starts to sense breakup tension in their relationship, another is stuck at the same job she had when they first all met. But an ominous shadow then clouds their party plans when Cleo (Helena Howard) learns The Smiths broke up. Word spreads through the circle, but the group continues towards their original plans. However, Dean (Ellar Coltrane), the lovestruck sad boy who lets Cleo shoplift from the record store where he works, wants to pay homage to their favorite band and impress Cleo. So, he takes the store’s gun, drives down to the local rock station, and forces the macho metalhead deejay (Joe Manganiello) to play all of The Smiths’ albums at gunpoint.
The unfortunate timing of releasing this movie the week Denver’s neighboring city of Boulder suffered a mass shooting aside, the movie just never finds its groove. Here is a group of characters so obsessed with a band that they trade song lyrics like gossip, but they don’t feel like characters outside of their preoccupation with The Smiths. Even their hang ups around gender norms, sexuality, and celibacy are references to the band. There’s even a conversation between Dean and the deejay Full Metal Mickey about the Smith’s message of vegetarianism and Cleo’s car lets everyone know that “meat is murder.” The movie lets no part of The Smiths’ ideology be left unmentioned. That barrage of references can feel like overkill when Sheila (Elena Kampouris), of “Sheila Take a Bow” fame, dramatically writes out “There is a better world,” a line from the song “Asleep,” on a mirror in lipstick in an emotional moment of rejection.
Speaking of the movie’s references, they extend beyond the scope of The Smiths and onto their contemporaries. After all, what kind of post-punk rock fan would you be if you didn’t sneer at more popular groups like Bon Jovi for selling out and writing shallow songs about parties? Among the many visual and verbal name drops are Twisted Sister, Alice Cooper, and Kiss in the rock station. During the groups’ party stops, they run into someone dressed as Siouxsie Sioux at a house party and a bouncer dressed as Grace Jones at a gay bar. Sheila, who dresses like Madonna, has a “Suddenly Seeking Susan” moment in a bathroom, using an air dryer to dry off. It’s as if “Shoplifters of the World” is trying to test the limits of how many references can a movie hold.