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Dustin Putman

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200 Cigarettes (1999)
2 Stars

Directed by Risa Bramon Garcia
Cast: Courtney Love, Paul Rudd, Martha Plimpton, Gaby Hoffmann, Kate Hudson, Jay Mohr, Angela Featherstone, Nicole Parker, Christina Ricci, Brian McCardie, Casey Affleck, Dave Chappelle, Guillermo Diaz, Janeane Garofalo, Catherine Kellner, Ben Affleck, Elvis Costello.
1999 – 100 minutes
Rated: Rated R (for profanity).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, February 27, 1999.

Obviously obtaining its inspiration from 1973's classic, "American Graffitti," "200 Cigarettes," casting director Risa Bramon Garcia's uneven feature film directing debut, is set exclusively on the night of New Year's Eve on New York City's East Side, circa 1981, as we follow sixteen different characters, all of which are set to attend a big New Year's blowout at the heavily-decorated apartment of Monica (Martha Plimpton) who, as nine o'clock rolls around, fears that no one is going to come and everyone hates her. Even her friend (Catherine Kellner), who has kept her company for the early part of the night, ends up running out on her. And to make matters worse, her first guest turns out to be her Scottish ex-boyfriend (Brian McCardie), whom she claims is "the worst lover I've ever had...including high school." This is one of the brightest vignettes of the film, thanks fully to Plimpton's stand-out, high-enegy, hilarious performance.

As for the rest of the wide array of characters, Lucy (Courtney Love), who has had her fair share of boyfriends, is trying to cheer up her friend, Kevin (Paul Rudd), who is not only burdened with having his birthday fall on New Year's Eve, but is also suffering from his recent break-up with his long-time girlfriend, Ellie (Janeane Garofalo). Although this subplot, perhaps, is given the most attention in the film, it is also one of the more dull sections and doesn't really go anywhere. Garofalo, alas, is also wasted with only three scenes, although she is given one of the funniest lines of dialogue. As she tries to light a cigarette with no luck, she exclaims, "these matches are disappointing me!"

One of the better stories in the film belongs to the klutzy Cindy (Kate Hudson, Goldie Hawn's daughter), who has just lost her virginity the night before and after telling the guy, Jack (Jay Mohr), who is afraid of commitment, he becomes overjoyed, that is, until she tells him she loves him. Hudson is so winning in this, her film debut, and appears to have such a firm handle for comic situations, that she is always fun to watch. I wonder, however, if director Garcia could have focused more on her character, rather than her on-going pratfalls (she slips on some doggy poop, knocks drinks over, stumbles over people, smashes chandeliers, etc), even though they are a hoot.

Meanwhile, Val (Christina Ricci) and Stephie (Gaby Hoffmann) are two teenage girls from Long Island with accents as thick as thieves who have stopped over into NYC to go to the party (Val is Monica's cousin), but get hopelessly lost. Val doesn't mind so much, since all she's worried about is getting laid, while the more uptight Stephie fears for her own life on the mean streets, particularly the dreaded "Ave. B!" A movie that wastes the talents of Christina Ricci should be ashamed of itself, and that is exactly what happens here, as Ricci is forced to portray a one-note character without any distinctive qualities. Faring better and given a little bit more screen time is Hoffmann, who I can't recall ever being so funny in a film before. With her heavy, caricaturized Brooklyn accent and clever way with words, Hoffmann gives one of the few notable performances, along with Hudson and Plimpton (whom she shares a hysterical moment with in the last scene of the film, as she keeps saying, with her accent, mind you, "Yea! Yea!").

The last and least vignette in the film goes to two women and so-called friends (Angela Featherstone and Nicole Parker) who both are vying for a hunky bartender (Ben Affleck), until he actually speaks and reveals how cornball he actually is. There is nothing of interest here, and Affleck especially is given nothing to do.

Like the recent "Playing by Heart," "200 Cigarettes" is a toss-up between wonderful moments and weak moments. The former, however, spent an adequate amount of time with its character so that I felt that I got to know them well by the end. On the contrary, director Garcia has cast "200 Cigarettes" with a virtual who's-who of young, hot stars and then has chosen to put very few of them to good use. As mentioned, Plimpton, Hudson, and Hoffmann are irresistible high points in a marginally entertaining film that spends too little time with too many characters, and then never really adds up to much. The only suspense coming from the film (or more like the only twist) is that the conclusion reveals who each character got together with the night before. Some of them are surprising, others are inevitable, but it didn't really make much difference to me since I didn't necessarily care about any of them. If there is any sort of compensation for this non-payoff it is the ending scene in which we are shown photos of the New Year's party (it is never actually shown in live-action), narrated hysterically by a cab driver (Dave Chappelle) who has a run-in with all of the characters throughout the movie. And what is revealed that occurred to the Plimpton character is almost worth a marginal recommendation, but not quite. "200 Cigarettes" blares '80s music from scene-to-scene, but other than that, this picture could have taken place during any time period since no mention is made of even the smallest current event of the time. Something tells me director Garcia was a little lazy while researching the year of 1981, and something also tells me that writer Shana Larsen was a little too lazy to even run the screenplay through another rewrite. Believe me, it certainly needed it.

©1999 by Dustin Putman

Dustin Putman