This week Stephen Kijak’s Shoplifters of the World, a new Smiths related comedy drama set in Denver, that tells the story of a bunch of Smiths devotees in the wake of the announcement of the band’s 1987 breakup.

The Smiths were far from the most original band of the 1980s, but with his startling wordplay and unique take on life, Morrissey would have to loom large in any discussions of the most adroit lyricist of that decade, while I would struggle to name a more gifted or versatile guitarist than Johnny Marr. Yes, I was a big fan but never an obsessive uberfan. No gladioli waving and no cardie, quiff or NHS specs for me in any attempt to resemble Morrissey, thankfully. That kind of thing always struck me as more than a little sad.

The main characters in Shoplifters of the World have no such qualms about hero worship. They adore The Smiths and in particular Morrissey. The man is pretty much the perfect human being and whatever he says goes. Remember, this is 1987.

Cleo (Helena Howard) is the first of this group of outsiders to discover that the band have split up – via one of the least convincing news bulletins in cinematic history. Luckily, she has gathered up some beer cans left by her dipso mum on the living room floor, so she we can see the severity of her shock as she drops them in sheer disbelief, before letting out one almighty scream, although, as the report mentioned, there had been months of speculation in the music press about the possibility of the band calling it quits.

She drives straight out to her local independent record store to discuss the bombshell with Dean, a Morrissey lookalike behind the counter, who is clearly smitten by her, and is reading about the news in Melody Maker. Impressively, in the short time since Cleo left her home, the British music press has already arrived in Colorado with Johnny Marr’s version of events making front page news in NME.

‘Our music died today and nobody even cares,’ Cleo sulks. ‘I wish there was a way to get all the posers in this town to take notice.’

What good this would achieve, I have no idea but Dean might just have a solution. ‘Something that would go down in musical history.’ But he’s keeping schtum about the details of his plan.

We soon meet more of Cleo’s pals. There’s Billy, who’s joining ‘Reagan’s army’ mainly to please his parents, and there’s Shelia (yes, really) and Patrick (honestly), a couple who are planning to visit England. Sex isn’t featuring in their relationship because Patrick wants to emulate Stephen Patrick’s celibacy. Or because he is obviously gay and looking for a convenient excuse not to have to take his frustrated partner to bed.

Like Dean, Cleo, Billy, Sheila and Patrick all love endlessly punctuating their conversations with Smiths lyrics and song titles to the extent that Morrissey – who liked to swipe the odd snatch of film and theatre dialogue into his lyrics himself – ought to have been given a screenplay credit. For a bit of variety, though, they also like to quote anybody who ever inspired their Mozziah: Oscar Wilde, Charles Baudelaire and even Saturday Night and Sunday Morning‘s Arthur Seaton for starters.

This barrage of references quickly begins to grate.

As they attempt to find a party, a lovestruck Dean, presumably in an attempt to impress Cleo, makes his way over to local radio station Kiss 101 with a bunch of Smiths albums. There, he points a loaded gun at macho deejay Full Metal Mickey, interrupting his monthly Metal Marathon, and ordering him to play Smiths records back-to-back all night long.

Full Metal Mickey is no fan of ‘depressive haircut bullshit’ and when told that The Smiths were the only band that mattered, he gives Dean an incredulous look and sneers: ‘You’ve clearly never listened to Twisted fucking Sister!’ But he does what he is told, although there’s never any sense that Dean would shoot him even if he continued to play Sabbath and Slayer.

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Ironically, it’s the metalhead who is easily the movie’s most rounded and likeable character. He’s the only one with any real sense of humour or genuine insight. ‘One day, your heroes are gonna grow old,’ he warns the younger man. ‘They’re gonna change. They’re gonna put out shitty music. They’re gonna say stupid things that betray the past.’

Amen to that, dude.

If you’re wondering about the inspiration behind this part of the story, a depressed young Smiths fan did once drive to a radio station in Denver, carrying a rifle and planning to force the station to air his Smiths mixtape although he failed to carry out this plan of action.

The soundtrack – and there are twenty Smiths tracks included on it – is undoubtedly magnificent, albeit it’s used with as much imagination as an episode of Heartbeat. When Cleo makes her way out of the record shop and throws a pile freshly stolen cassette tapes into her car, she does so to the sound of Shoplifters of the World Unite and when the Sally Ann brass band strikes up the introduction to Sheila Take A Bow, you won’t need me to tell you who the camera focusses on. She even takes a bow.

The film begins to flip between Cleo and her pals out on the razz and Dean and Mickey in the radio booth, where the pair learn that they might have more in common with one another than they first assumed.

Shoplifters of the World is not an entire stinker but neither is it a film that I’ll likely ever be tempted to watch again. None of the performances really stood out bar Joe Manganiello as Mickey. Kijak often demonstrates a good eye for a shot, and while I found his script mediocre at best, I did like the fact that not everything is magically resolved for all the characters as the closing credits beckon. The way he weaved archival Smiths footage into the film was skilfully handled too.

My main problem is that I failed to find any of this bunch very interesting. Just because they see themselves in opposition to the awful one-dimensional jocks who surround them doesn’t automatically make them likeable. 

We’re especially supposed to admire Cleo’s feistiness although she oozes a snobbish sense of superiority over anyone with a different taste in music. She pretends to her pals that she’s a student with a boyfriend when neither is true. She’s a petty thief, and she complains about posers and yet smokes in the most incredibly affected way, using a long cigarette holder. She also lacks self-awareness. She criticises Molly Ringwald’s character in Pretty in Pink, thinking she was ‘kind of a bitch’ by refusing to get together with her ‘cool’ friend just because he dotes on her, while Cleo refuses to get together with a guy who would leap in front of a flying bullet for her.

He did actually say that, and I almost screamed with the same ferocity as Cleo had earlier.

And speaking of flying bullets, she loves the idea of someone threatening another person’s life with a gun just so she can get to hear her favourite music. Yep, I much preferred Molly Ringwald’s Andie, and for all its faults, Pretty In Pink is a much better film than this.

For more on the movie click here.