Square to be hip

Coolness and a cast of dozens can't save 200 Cigarettes

Here's the pitch: It's New Year's Eve, 1981.
Wait, there's more. But not much.
Kevin (Paul Rudd) and Lucy (Courtney Love) are best friends out on the town, dateless. He's a sad sack of self-loathing; she's into slapstick sex in bathroom stalls. Kevin was just dumped by Ellie (Janeane Garofalo), an emasculating performance-artist blowhard. We're not sure what Lucy's excuse is.

Across town is Jack (Jay Mohr), a narcissistic Don Juan who has left a sizable percentage of New York's women in love with him. He has recently deflowered Cindy (Kate Hudson), an anxious klutz who takes more pratfalls than Chevy Chase. Cindy is infatuated with Jack because he is, of course, an irresistible rake.

Not so with poor Eric (Brian McCardie), a hip SoHo artist who specializes in abstract vaginas. Maybe it's some sort of subliminal Freudian thing, because Eric, according to his girlfriend Bridget (Nicole Parker), is the world's worst lay.

Bridget has just dumped him because he talked on the phone to his ex-girlfriend--and because of that lay thing. But Bridget is worried she'll be jinxed for the coming year if she doesn't sleep with someone on New Year's. Bridget's catty friend Caityln (Angela Featherstone) wholeheartedly agrees, just as long as it's not the guy she wants to do on New Year's. That guy may be the bartender (Ben Affleck) who drops his glassware as often as he drops bad pickup lines. Or it could be the disco cabbie (Dave Chappelle) with the great smile and the "be-cool, fool" disposition.

Meanwhile, Val (Christina Ricci) is an underage Long Islander with a thick, grating accent and a big, round head. She and her equally annoying friend Stephie (Gaby Hoffman) pulled a fast one on the old parental units and are now wandering the streets of the East Village, hoping to hang out with a band. Stephie has some sort of alphabet phobia and won't go any farther east than Avenue A, yet here she and Val are, strolling down Avenue B. But Stephie's fears may be valid; punk-rocker Tom (Casey Affleck) and his buddy Dave (Guillermo Diaz) are stalking them.

Later, everyone's going over to Martha Plimpton's place for a party.
Wanna come along?
The correct answer is no.

About the only thing 200 Cigarettes has going for it is the handful of hipsters with their names on the marquee--most of whom nobody has ever heard of. Sure, you can also while away the time playing "Where's the cameo?" but even that wears thin--as thin as the point of this film. Look, there's Elvis Costello. Hey, wasn't that David Johansen of New York Dolls fame? Wow, there's Elvis Costello again. Hey, that's Boys Against Girls--and, get this, they are doing a cover of a dance song. What will those clever filmmakers think of next? There's Elvis again. Damn if he's not the man. Of course, the man sings elevator music with Burt Bacharach in 1999.

If the last CD you bought was Duran Duran's Rio and you still have a Debbie Harry poster on your wall--you poor bastard--this is the film for you. Otherwise, 200 Cigarettes is little more than a stew of retro-hip references with about as much depth, meaning, and entertainment value as a New Year's Eve midnight kiss. When Courtney Love's turn as a slut is the most intriguing and surprising performance of the bunch, you know there's trouble. For all its intertwined subplots, 200 Cigarettes goes nowhere at all, except to bed. The only thing we really discover about these twentynothings is whom they wind up in the sack with come New Year's morn.

First-time director Risa Bramon Garcia may be a veteran casting director, but you wouldn't know it here. Or at least you wouldn't believe she was any good. I never mistook Mohr for a comedian when he was on Saturday Night Live, and I've yet to mistake him for a serious actor despite his latest spate of indie-film roles. Do you really expect me to believe he's some sort of Valentino? Look at the guy--he's Dennis the Menace with a 401K.

Then again, Garcia's depth of field is limited throughout. This film merely dresses up simple-minded nostalgia. Gee, wasn't it wild way back in 1981? The music was wild, the fashions were wilder, and sex was the wildest. Ultimately, all this glassy-eyed backward gazing wouldn't matter if the film were funny. But ghastly pickup lines and a pile of dog shit get the most mileage. This film could have been set during any era. The only things really locking it to the early '80s are the fashions--so crazy they're spelled with a "K" and so cool they'll be in style again this year--and the guilt-free sex.

If nothing else, maybe 200 Cigarettes might teach first-time filmmakers such as director Garcia and screenwriter Shana Larsen a few lessons. Jumbling together an ensemble cast doesn't make things more clever or interesting. It just makes things more jumbled. Then again, we are dealing with people who look back at 1981 as a watershed year.

200 Cigarettes.
Directed by Risa Bramon Garcia. Written by Shana Larsen. Starring Ben Affleck, Casey Affleck, Janeane Garofalo, Christina Ricci, Kate Hudson, Courtney Love, and Paul Rudd. Opens Friday.

 
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