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200 CIGARETTES

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Courtney Love, Ben Affleck, Christina Ricci, Gaby Hoffman, Martha Plimpton, Jay Mohr, Dave Chappelle, Kate Hudson, Janeane Garofalo, Casey Affleck
Director:  Risa Bramon Garcia
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby Surround
Video:  Widescreen 1.77:1, 16x9 Enhanced
Studio:  Paramount
Features:  None
Length:  101 Minutes
Release Date:  August 31, 1999

Film **1/2

I'm not really sure why this movie is named 200 Cigarettes.  There is a good deal of smoking in the film, but not really any more or less compared to other films of this type.  I didn't take the time to count, but I'm pretty sure the total tally fell short of 200.  The only other explanation I can think of is that 200 is the number of cigarettes in a carton, which happens to be what one of the characters receives as a birthday present.

But on to the movie.  200 Cigarettes seems to have two goals in mind.  First, it wants to be a movie in the same vein as the great ensemble youth comedies, like American Graffiti or Dazed and Confused.  In other words, a film with a large number of characters who interact with each other at various points, and no real plot to speak of.  The second goal appears to be the resurrection of the so-called ‘brat pack' films of the 80's.  In fact, for no other reason I can think of, the movie takes place on New Year's Eve of 1981.  And, of course, the cast is made up of some of the hottest younger actors working today.  I could sense a bit of homage to About Last Night and St. Elmo's Fire in the workings.

Does it work?  Overall, not really, but it does have its moments here and there in the margins.  I think the filmmakers failed to realize that it's okay to be sans plot as long as there's a point, and vice versa.  To have no plot and no point, as this movie does, is bit much to indulge in and expect to hold an audience.  It's a little too obvious that the screenwriter and director really had nothing to say, leaving their story to the same old tired clichés about love and sex.  There's not much fertile ground left in those subjects, and here, they simply don't even try to come up with something fresh.

Another problem is that all of the characters are completely flat.  Truthfully, I didn't realize this until reflecting back the next day.  Some were more obviously shallow, but a few, thanks entirely to good acting, made me believe at the time that there was more going on.  I'll list them, with great happiness:  Courtney Love, Christina Ricci, Kate Hudson, Martha Plimpton.  Love proves that her magnificent debut in The People vs. Larry Flynt was no fluke, and Ricci is hysterical as a New York socialite on the wrong side of the tracks trying to find a certain party.  Plimpton is a joy as the embodiment of the age old question, “What if I threw a party and nobody came?”  And Kate Hudson is a real find with a bright future.  She may be Goldie Hawn's daughter, but she proves can stand on her own as a comic actress, and all of her scenes were delightful.  Apart from that, despite some talent, the other cast members never came across.  Ben Affleck and Janeane Garofalo have way too little to work with to shine the way they normally do.

But the film does have some entertainment value, and when I and my friends gathered around the DVD player to watch the movie, we did have a good time.  This is one of the best soundtracks I've heard—a great deal better than many other 80's flashback movies of recent years, and the music is almost non stop.  (Again, possibly drawing from the structure of Graffiti).  And, despite the shallowness of the script, there were some genuinely big laughs to be had.  The best one involved the movie Love Story…I will say no more.

Video ****

This disc is definitely a triumph for Paramount in terms of quality.  For starters, this is one of the most colorful movies I've seen of late, as every locale is decorated for New Year's with characters dressed accordingly.  The colors are rich and beautiful, and well defined and contained.  The image is also free of artifacts and grain, and sharp and crisp throughout, with great detail. 

Audio ***

The 5.1 soundtrack makes only sparing use of the rears for effect...in fact, the multiple channels are  mostly good for the music.  Still, that's quite a compliment with a film such as this one.  Those old tunes sound loud, clean and clear, add an extra dimension to the dynamics of the audio, and make this an enjoyable listen.

Features (zero stars)

Nothing.

Summary:

200 Cigarettes is the 90's version of an 80's ‘brat pack' film, and ironically, like its older counterparts, proves that having a talented cast of big names doesn't necessarily equate to a great movie.  It has some genuine laughs, and is worth a viewing at least for that, as well as the performances of Love, Ricci, Hudson and Plimpton, and the terrifically colorful and excellent transfer on this DVD.