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'200 Cigarettes' Goes Up in Smoke

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 26, 1999

  Movie Critic

200 Cigarettes
Paul Rudd and Courtney Love star in "200 Cigarettes." (Paramount)

Risa Bramon Garcia
Ben Affleck;
Casey Affleck;
David Chapelle;
Guillermo Diaz;
Angela Featherstone;
Janeane Garofalo;
Gabby Hoffman;
Kate Hudson;
Courtney Love;
Jay Mohr;
Martha Plimpton;
Christina Ricci;
Paul Rudd
Running Time:
1 hour, 42 minutes
Contains obscenity, nudity and sexual situations
The social anxiety of New Year's Eve, that irrational worry about being at the right party and mating with the right person in time for midnight, is supposed to inform "200 Cigarettes," a twentysomething comedy with a brain-dead script, unflattering lighting and 16 performers in search of a scriptwriter.

But the real anxiety occurs on this side of the screen. Directed by Risa Bramon Garcia (who began her career as a casting director), and written by Shana Larsen, whose first effort this is, "200 Cigarettes" feels like one-sixth of an idea stretched to the breaking point.

I couldn't tell if the movie was meant to be an entertaining, offbeat comedy or straight-out sabotage – the dramatic equivalent of a smoldering butt mashed into my dinner.

On the eve of 1981, East Side New Yorker Monica (Martha Plimpton) decides to throw a New Years' Eve bash in her New York loft, with her latest friend (Catherine Kellner) lingering around to help. Monica has the pad, the punch, the food and . . . no guests. As the night deepens, and the room stays empty, her ennui mounts.

Over the course of the movie, we meet those guests to be, who are too busy negotiating unfulfilled loves, messy breakups and sudden new attractions to make it to the party just yet.

In the most interesting episode, Kevin (Paul Rudd), a bleak-souled type whose miserable birthday falls on this date, mourns his breakup with performance artist Ellie (Janeane Garofalo), while his pal Lucy (Courtney Love) listens.

As far as Lucy can tell, this is the same old story for Kevin: always choosing heartbreakers. But as their conversation becomes more frank, a new question arises: Will these two friends turn their frustrated passions on each other?

Also figuring in this are Jack (Jay Mohr) and Cindy (Kate Hudson) who had a hot night the evening before and are gingerly setting out on their second, no-expectations date.

Jack and Cindy are just two in an endless guest list that includes: two crass Long Island girls (Christina Ricci and Gaby Hoffmann) out of their depth in the East Village; two tarty-arty women (Nicole Parker and Angela Featherstone) looking for love; one self-impressed bartender (Ben Affleck) hoping to please both of them; one Scottish SoHo artist (Brian McCardie) obsessed with his inability to please women in bed; and a "Disco Cabbie" taxi-driver (Dave Chappelle) with an Afro, sideburns and the "ladies man" attitude to match.

The story takes place at the onset of Reagan's Morning in America when self-gratification, workaholism and rampant materialism were all the rage. But the characters – who are supposed to be emblematic of this time – are little more than tiresome nonentities from any era.

Rudd and Love do their best to put some funky presence into their particular chapter, which includes making seamy love in a restroom. And Chappelle has some moments as the cocksure hustler with a line of soul-slick B.S. for every woman that enters his taxi. But when these three are the best characters in a movie, you know you're in trouble.

When Plimpton's character starts wailing: "No one is coming, I have no friends and everybody hates me!" you're hard-pressed to disagree, let alone care. And like her, you find yourself slumped forward in your chair, praying for the dawning of the new year with desperate fervor.

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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