200 Cigarettes (1999)

Paul Rudd and Courtney LoveStarring Ben Affleck, Casey Affleck, David Chappelle, Guillermo Diaz, Angela Featherstone, Janeane Garofalo, Gaby Hoffman, Kate Hudson, Courtney Love, Brian McCardie, Jay Mohr, Nicole Parker, Martha Plimpton, Christina Ricci, and Paul Rudd
Written by Shana Larsen
Directed by Risa Bramon Garcia

Grade: C+

Review by Alison Tweedie-Perry.

Back in 1992 there was a television commercial that offended all of my friends and me. We were all in our early 20s and part of the newly discovered "Generation X." The commercial was for Subaru. It featured a scruffy young fellow (Saving Private Ryan's Jeremy Davies, in the role that would launch his career--at least the ad had some redeeming benefit) in a striped shirt flat out wigging about this car that was so cool, it was "like punk rock." The point they were trying to make was that the car broke out of the staid boundaries of the prevailing trend. The real point of the commercial was that people our age had buying power, and, by gum, Subaru was going to tap into it! The commercial itself was obvious and heavy-handed, and the target audience ridiculed it as heartily as they rejected it.

Since then, our generation has become one of the largest chunks of the spending community, and this sort of marketing has become so commonplace it hardly rates mention. The fact that a good many of our peers have set up shop on Madison Avenue no doubt contributes to a general improvement in the quality of the pitch, but we still know when we're being targets. We just choose whether we want to buy into it or not.

200 Cigarettes is like those ads. It is squarely aimed at late-20 and early 30somethings who remember the time when they would have loved nothing more than to be punk rock, but their moms wouldn't let them. The film is set on New Year's Eve 1981/82 in New York's East Village. Chock full of actors with gobs of Gen-X appeal, plus a few youngsters to drag in the teen bucks, and backed with copious quantities of toe-tappin' early-80s and late-70s tunes, 200 Cigarettes was clearly designed to put my ass in that theater. It was so obvious, so overt, so outre. How could I resist?

Though I was leery after the wretched reviews I'd read, from the bouncy opening titles, set to the even bouncier rhythms of Bow Wow Wow's "I Want Candy," I was hooked. Make no mistake, this is not a good film. There is no deep character development, no important conflicts, no explorations of theme, but I had a darn good time watching it.

The movie follows the many paths of many characters (probably too many, but, otherwise how could they have cast all those cool folks?) on their way to a New Year's Eve party. A love-god taxi driver picks up practically all of the characters at some point in the evening, sharing with them his views and philosophies on love. Of course they all have screwed up love lives, and of
course they're all just miserable about it. Basically, they wear cheesy early-80s clothes, drop hints about which stereotype they inhabit in the historic context of the period, and burble lots of witty comments. It's fluff, but it's the kind of fluff I wish they'd make more of to compete with mindless big-budget action movies--not that I dislike action movies, but movies like 200 Cigarettes give you another option on nights when all you can handle is fluff).

There are seemingly a million actors in 200 Cigarettes, and they all acquit themselves fairly well. Courtney Love is excellent, playing someone that seems like more of stretch on the surface than Althea Flynt (the junkie wife of the porn king she portrayed in The People vs. Larry Flynt), but who, in reality, is probably far closer to Ms. Love herself. In case you've ever wanted to ask Ben Affleck, "Any more like you at home?" I can tell you the answer is a resounding yes. Both Casey and Ben are scrumptious in their respective parts.

Paul Rudd continues to surprise me with his ability to transform himself, and I wish he'd hurry up and get himself a juicy part to sink his teeth into. Jay Mohr and Kate Hudson (Goldie Hawn's daughter, which you'll know instantly once she opens her mouth, if you couldn't spot the resemblance before) are WASPishly adorable. Christina Ricci, Gaby Hoffman, and Martha Plimpton are all just downright annoying (although, especially in the case of Ricci and Hoffman, that's sort of the point, so I guess it's a success).

My only severe complaint about the movie (I mean, besides the fact that it has little plot, no character development, and less of a point than a beach ball) is that Janeane Garofalo is only onscreen for about five minutes, all of which she steals, and all of which you've probably seen in the promos.

So, though my endorsement rings as loudly as a bell with a cotton clapper, I must admit I enjoyed this movie. If you came of age sometime between the year Punk broke and when it broke again, have ever lived in New York, or wanted to, and like any of these actors and silly bon mots, you'll probably enjoy it, too.

Review © March 1999 by AboutFilm.Com and the author.
Image © 1999 by Paramount Pictures.
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