by DAVID KEYES
Roger Avery's "The Rules of Attraction" launches
with these harsh words of wisdom: the first rule about the
rules of attraction is that there are no rules. Indeed,
as revealed through the warped character arcs exposed to
the audience during the course of this two-hour acid trip,
such an announcement couldn't be closer to the truth, especially
when it comes to college kids who coexist on a campus that
seems to lack everything resembling a reality except for
sex, drugs, alcohol, and the occasional frat party. Based
on the Bret Easton Ellis novel of the same name, the movie
is comprised of players who behave, react, detach and negate
from the norm like they're part of some gigantic psychological
tug-of-war against insanity, disoriented by their own conduct
without actually realizing the personal obstacles they're
usually up against until it's too late for them to be forgiven.
This all might make "The Rules of Attraction"
sound more lurid than it actually is, but perhaps that shouldn't
be too surprising given the source. Ellis is a writer who
likes to draw most of his characters with the same set of
distinct parallels, usually involving elements of cruelty,
panic, meandering and torment, and the occasional act of
a psychopath. His heroes are seldom likable, although a
few have the manipulative charm that make them infectious
enough to tolerate. And that's the big plus behind a movie
like this, a weird and boundless teen fantasy where nothing
is normal, everything is detestable, and watching it all
unfold is curiously beguiling.
The movie's center is Sean Bateman (James Van Der Beek),
a horny, disconnected and mysterious spirit who wanders
his campus without a conscious thought in his drug-fueled
head (and before anyone asks about relation, yes, he is
a sibling to Patrick Bateman, the character at the center
of another Ellis novel called "American Psycho").
Sean's primary goals consist of very little positivity,
and when he isn't thinking about sleeping with the next
woman he meets, he's contemplating how he can dig himself
out of the financial hole created by his campus drug supplier,
a vulgar and equally-detestable creature named Rupert.
Sean's patterned lifestyle faces a much-needed change via
two people who whisk into his life: Lauren Hynde (Shannyn
Sossamon), a raven-haired beauty who pines away for a boy
she doesn't even know, and then discourages sexual activity
by staring at graphic shots of viral infections caused by
intercourse;and Paul Denton (Ian Somerhalder), a sly and
witty man who once dated Lauren, but is now a full-fledged
homosexual with a desire to pursue people who he knows he
can never have. As the twisted personas cross paths and
have casual interactions, layers and facades are peeled
back and core motivations are exposed, leaving behind an
anchor of brutal honesty that the audience can't help but
attach itself to.
The movie owes a lot of its striking interest to the photography,
which makes fascinating leaps against tradition in some
of the film's most crucial scenes. The entire first sequence
introducing the key players, for instance, is told in fast-forward/rewind
mode that involves a scene playing through, backing up to
different stages and then resuming forward motion as the
camera shifts its attention from one persona to another.
Furthermore, there is a brief but brilliant split-screen
moment later on involving Sean and Lauren's first meeting,
in which both actors stare at the screen until each camera
pulls away and matches up with the other, sort of like a
cracked mirror as it is being realigned at the center.
If the movie does have a fault, it's that none of the three
main characters are nearly as interesting as they should
be. Sure, Sean, Lauren and Paul all have their own little
quirks that separate them from any similar screen personas,
but other than their lifestyle choices, they don't really
share many differences between each other. The source material
is unknown to me, alas, so that complicates any possibility
of comparison; however, having been a big fan of both the
book and the film version of Ellis' "American Psycho,"
I confess that the problem here may lie with the fact that
"The Rules of Attraction" is pulling triple duty
with something that could be easily wonderful simply by
being told through one perspective. The message of the majority
of Ellis' work is simplepeople are seldom as dimensional
as they seembut here its as if he has taken one detestable
character and split him or her into three lesser parts.
Nonetheless, the movie itself is quite an interesting experience
to sit through, not so much for entertainment but more for
education. No, this isn't another grand character spectacle
like "American Psycho," but it at least finds
its own identity and sticks with it even when the delivery
seems to be less than what is possible.