Billy (Jude Law) gets out of prison today after three months, and one of the top detectives, Conway (Jonathan Pryce) who has noted him as a potential, major troublemaker is there to offer some words of wisdom. But when he asks Billy what he’s learnt from his time inside, all the answer he receives is "Don't get caught", and the young offender is soon out of the gates and picked up by his girlfriend Jo (Sadie Frost) in a stolen car he is unimpressed by. Couldn't she have gotten a better set of wheels than this? There's only one way to remedy the situation, and that’s to bump into a BMW at the lights, then when the owner gets out to inspect the damage, they steal his car instead, leaving him shouting after them uselessly...
Shopping was the movie that introduced director Paul W.S. Anderson to the world, for it was his debut feature though not necessarily an indication of where his heart lay, which was more on the action side of things than the social commentary that this threw a sop to. It was very much a 1994 film as it took as its topics the tabloid-baiting escapades of young ruffians whose idea of a good night out was ramraiding and joyriding, two hot button subjects that were guaranteed to get it column inches as an example of glamorising a criminal lifestyle. The news moved on, and so did the movies, leaving this as more notable for its fumbling steps towards Cool Britannia that Trainspotting would well and truly embrace come the following year.
What that had and this crucially lacked was a sense of humour, with its forced melodrama, pity for its dead end characters, and general "Crusher’s dead!" dialogue you knew was supposed to be edgy because of the number of times the F-word was implemented. For all its supposed immorality in the depiction of rootless young folks whose only diversion is lawbreaking, to the extent that it has become their sole purpose in life, there was a very earnest, almost social worker-type shaking of the head and look of concern about Billy and Jo and the rest, though Anderson's script failed to find them any kind of redemption, preferring the nihilism that was cool at the time. If you care about something, that makes you vulnerable, after all.
And Billy is vulnerable every time he reaches out to be truly bothered about someone or something, even his dilapidated caravan that he has been made to move into when his mother refuses to allow him to stay in their flat. Everything about this highlighted the worst estate in the city setting, an urban landscape where everything has gone down the dumper and hope is laughed off the screen, if anyone was laughing, which they usually weren't. It was supposed to be located in the nineties of the near future, though you'd be forgiven for not noticing at this remove for it appeared contemporary, not least because of Brit Pack stars Law and Frost in the leads (Frost adopting a dodgy Northern Irish accent for reasons best known to herself) and fellow members Sean Bean and Sean Pertwee in support.
A few not bad bits aside, such as Jo expressing her disdain for the yuppie's taste in music by throwing his cassettes of Billy Joel, Dire Straits and Whitney Houston at the police cars pursuing them during a high speed chase down a tunnel, you couldn't quite escape the "elegantly slumming" tone, with characters aspiring to consumerism you just knew the moviemakers had more than comfortable access to in their actual lives. Pryce was on board to look stern and mildly compassionate as a representative of authority, but most of this was Frost and Law emoting about the poor hand life has dealt their characters broken up with the odd action sequence, as much as Anderson could manage on his budget - he saved a Smokey and the Bandit stunt for his final couple of minutes, just so the audience would come away feeling they hadn't been entirely shortchanged in that department. Shopping was neither one thing (gritty social realism) nor the other (flashy action drama), and a bit of a relic for Generation X. Music by Barrington Pheloung, with a fashionable array of tunes (Sabres of Paradise, Credit to the Nation, Orbital) mixed in.