Weekly Wire
Austin Chronicle 200 Cigarettes

By Steve Davis

MARCH 1, 1999: 

D: Risa Bramon Garcia: with Paul Rudd, Courtney Love, Ben Affleck, Martha Plimpton, Christina Ricci, Dave Chappelle, Jay Mohr, Gaby Hoffman, Casey Affleck, Kate Hudson, Janeane Garofalo, Angela Featherstone, Guillermo Diaz. (R, 97 min.)

There's plenty of smoke in 200 Cigarettes, but not much fire. A comedy of manners for the hipster set, the movie aimlessly follows the converging paths of several New Yorkers trying to make their way to a New Year's Eve party, circa 1981. Because this is an MTV production, the trendy characters are all under 30; the calculated soundtrack features a different song about every three minutes; and the unfocused storyline is tailored for an audience nurtured on television that panders to attention deficit disorder. This isn't a movie, really; it's a marketing ploy. Hoping to capitalize on nostalgia for the go-go 1980s and the decade's tragic cultural accouterments (what has The Wedding Singer wrought?), 200 Cigarettes is a veritable fashion show of spike haircuts, cheap costume jewelry, fingerless net gloves, and bad dye jobs, set to the music of Elvis Costello, Blondie, and Kim Carnes. Beyond that, there's not much else to it. Even the title acknowledges the movie's triviality: It's nothing more than a marker, referring to the number of times the characters light up over the course of the film. (No doubt, the anti-tobacco lobby will protest the abandon with which the twentysomethings here glamorously inhale their nicotine pleasures and subliminally encourage impressionable filmgoers to dash to the nearest convenience store to buy a carton or two after leaving the theatre. Ardent nonsmokers will surely view 200 Cigarettes as the cinematic equivalent of Joe Camel.) While director Garcia has had an estimable career as a casting director, her inexperience behind the camera is evident throughout the film. She never finds the loopy energy this movie needs. Instead, the variously intertwined narratives seem segregated from each other; they don't work toward a common end. This lack of unified purpose might be less obvious if the characters in Shana Larsen's screenplay were the least bit interesting, but with a few exceptions, they're ciphers in a Manhattan demimonde. As a result, the actors have little with which to work. Courtney Love is surprisingly supple and sexy as a good-time girl secretly in love with her best friend, played by a hypertheatrical Paul Rudd. Dave Chappelle is a hoot as a taxi driver who dispenses romantic advice to his passengers, a cross between Barry White and Ann Landers. ("Music makes the booty spin 'round," he opines.) And as a clumsy debutante on a disastrous date, Kate Hudson (Goldie Hawn's daughter) channels her mother's vocal inflections and mannerisms with a precision that's scary. Although these three actors make this movie occasionally pleasurable, their impact is fleeting. As far as movies go, 200 Cigarettes is as forgettable as a puff off a generic-brand butt: filtered, flavored, and ultimately unsatisfying.
1.5 stars


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