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200 Cigarettes

movie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: 200 Cigarettes

Starring: Ben Affleck, Casey Affleck
Director: Risa Bramon Garcia
Rated: R
RunTime: 100 Minutes
Release Date: February 1999
Genres: Comedy, Drama

Review by Harvey Karten
No Rating Supplied

Have you noticed that the more pressure the government puts on the tobacco industry, the more smoking we see on the screen? Risa Bramon Garcia's movie, a case in point, apparently takes its title from the large number of butts consumed by a sizable group of celebrities. This makes me think: why do so many people smoke at all? Oh, there are the usual explanations--just a habit; addicted at an early age; to fit in with the cool crowd; to have something to do with your hands. But the principal character of "200 Cigarettes," Kevin (Paul Rudd), hits the nail on the head, I think. After going through what at first looks like a New Year's Eve from hell, he has an epiphany: "We use cigarettes as a shield against relating to each other." But when the New Year's blast turns out A-OK for him, he resolves, "I guess we won't be smoking much any more."

"200 Cigarettes," the directorial debut of Risa Bramon Garcia (known in the industry as a successful casting director), employs a sparkling soundtrack of 1980's tunes-- which makes some of us think that the real purpose of setting the film eighteen years back is to sell CD's. Elvis Costello pieces like "Pump it Up" compete with such Eighties hits as "Our Lips are Sealed," "Who Does Lisa Like," and "Rap Party" to give the whole movie the feel of "The Last Days of Disco" and "54." "200 Cigarettes" features a veritable who's who of film personalities who do shtick, as Frank Prinzi's camera pans from one couple or trio to another, all of whom have in common only that they are all heading to the same pad for a 1981 New Year's Eve Party. On the way, things happen to them that cause the men and women to change partners, cement relationships with the ones they have, and wind up for the most part feeling good about what the new year will bring.

Quite a few of the one-liners work, others fall as flat as the accident-prone but mighty pretty Kate Hudson in the role of Cindy, an awkward woman attending the party with the love of her life, Eric (Jay Mohr)--who, she insists, is the first person she ever slept with. Hudson provides the lion's share of physical humor, in one situation falling into a pile of doggy- doo on the sidewalk, in others knocking down plates in an Indian restaurant on Manhattan's East Sixth Street and smashing a lamp over a pool table at a local pub with her cue stick. Otherwise, the performers depend on screenwriter Shana Larsen's lines to develop the laughs, which do not come as readily as she may have wished.

New Year's Eve begins as Kevin (Paul Rudd) and his party date Lucy (Courtney Love) head into town in a Checker cab driven by a charming Disco Cabbie (Dave Chappelle). While most cab drivers are hustling fares, Disco Cabbie is more interested in hustling women, but he is not averse to giving advice to couples on how to win friends and influence people. "Smile, don't speak of death, and play good music," he counsels, emphasizing the first quality by frequently showing his sparkling teeth. Kevin and Lucy, who consider themselves to be just friends, challenge each other to have sex and wind up in the women's room of a pub trying just that until Kevin's current girl friend Ellie (Janeane Garofalo) catches them in flagrante.

Aside from Love and Rudd, much of the activity looks like extended cameos, though Jay Mohr gets his chance with some larger-than-life closeups to express his pet peeve: every woman he goes out with falls in love with him, he says regretfully to his gorgeous and bemused date, Cindy, who cannot understand why the man of her dreams considers this a handicap.

The 1980's may have been an era of Reaganomics, prosperity in some circles, and a fairly casual attitude toward sex, but neuroses never take a holiday. Director Garcia is intent on cramming a sample of all varieties of youthful dysfunction into her 100-minute movie but succeeds only somewhat in making them entertaining. Nor can her all-star cast do much, given the generally middling-quality dialogue. For describing sexual merry-go-roundelays, Arthur Schnitzler's "La Ronde" is still champ with its sparkling dialogue and representation of every social level--all playing out common self-deceptions of turn-of-the-century lovers. Twenty-somethings just do not have the maturity to develop great and universal stories, but these performers try their mightiest. Look for a few good turns from Martha Plimpton as Monica, who is giving the party but wondering why no one comes; Christina Ricci and Gaby Hoffman as suburban teens from Ronkonkoma with different agendas; Ben Affleck as a smooth, manipulative bartender looking for action with two women; and Brian McCardie as a guy with a heavy Irish brogue who is dumped by every woman he dates because he is the worst lover they've ever met.

Copyright 1999 Harvey Karten

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