200 Cigarettes
Rating -

Comedy (US); 1999; Rated R; 97 Minutes

Ben Affleck: Bartender
Angela Featherstone: Caitlyn
Janeane Garofalo: Ellie
Gaby Hoffman: Stephie
Kate Hudson: Cindy
Brian McCardie: Eric
Courtney Love: Lucy
Christina Ricci: Val

Produced by Betsy Beers, Steven L. Berstein, David Gale, Alan Greenspan, Andre Lamal, Mike Newell, Cecilia Kate Roque, Tom Rosenberg, Sigurjon Sighvatsson, Ted Tannebaum and Van Toffler; Directed by Risa Bramon Garcia; Screenwritten by Shana Larsen

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Written by DAVID KEYES

You don't have to look far to know where "200 Cigarettes" gets its title. Here is a movie with so much smoke surrounding its characters that it's not too difficult to picture them thirty years later, in hospital beds with collapsed lungs. This would normally be a distraction for the atmospheric impression a film has on us, but since this is a straightforward party movie we're discussing here, it has the right idea, and allows us to observantly examine the numerous characters, most of whom contain the poignancy and charm needed to help the whole film rise above typical plot clichés.

Some say that I'm ridiculous for admiring "200 Cigarettes," but there are variations of factors that contribute to the fun here, and it's not just the smoke, either. The film is in the spirit of similarly constructed party movies like "The Last Days Of Disco" and "54," which both came out last year and both found places on my runners-up list for the best of 1998. This is the movie that knows its a party flick, but doesn't care. It's fearsomely ambitious, funny, and, to say the least, delicious. Don't be surprised to see it as a runner-up of 1999's best movies.

All of it takes place at a carefree era for America's youth; we are taken back to New Year's Eve, 1981, where Martha Plimpton plays the hostess of a big New Years party. We see her wait for the guests, and then are taken to several different parts of the city with several different characters, all of which, as we learn, are headed for the same nightclub. Most of them don't have that much screen time, but that's the point of "200 Cigarettes." Celebrations in the movies often conflict with big-name casts like this, and if you expect a filmmaker to cram all of these characters in a two-hour movie with lots of air time, you're mistaken. Besides, when was the first time you saw a movie like this with few characters?

The first two people we actually get to know, though, are also two of the best. Kevin and Lucy, played well by Paul Rudd and Courtney Love, are obviously smitten with each other, although a physical relationship (so far) isn't likely. Oh, but the influence they have on each other, as well as a horny cab driver, takes them into the women's rest room, where (guess what?) Kevin's girlfriend finds them getting naked behind the stalls. She is played by the talented Janeane Garofalo.

All your typical events of the average party are demonstrated, too: the sex, the smoking, the stupidity, the interaction with others: you name it, you'll likely find it in "200 Cigarettes." This of course, is odd, because half the time you see a movie like this, some of the stereotypes are dropped so it can make use of the ones it wants to, which isn't many. Sex and stupidity are two entirely different thinks, and you hardly see them in the same movie. This isn't your typical party formula, and maybe that's why I've responded so well to it. Even though it is formulaic, and has numerous similarities to other similar pictures, it all comes together, feeling new and refreshed. And heck, if it weren't for the cast of characters, how could anyone like it any way, for that matter?

Two of the most witty characters you meet in the film come from Ronkonkoma, Long Island (one is played by Christina Ricci) who venture into the city, anxious to lose their virginity. Both have a deep New York accent that is so lifelike that its enough to recommend the movie aside from anything else. Then, of course, there's the party's bartender, played by Ben Affleck. He's a fan of Devo, the notorious band whose song "Whip It" won lots of attention with radio fans in the early 80s. He asks two of his customers in the movie if they like this group. What do they do, of course? They look at him like he's gay. Not one word comes out of their mouths, and he instantly pounces back. "No, I'm not gay. A lot of people think I am, but I'm not." Pieces like that sprawl out of the cracks of the story and keep our attention-span focused and amused. It has a great ensemble.

However, if the movie does have a weakness, it's the petty, pencil-thin plot that keeps everything together. No party film has ever had a purpose other than to amuse its audience with characters and entertain with music, and that's clearly evident in "200 Cigarettes." The soundtrack plays heavily in the background, while the characters basically move around and experience all different things, like cheap thrills and, of course, the scent of a cigarette. That isn't a bad thing, but it would have been better if the plot gave them something more to do than just contain themselves in one location trying to pursue all of their ambitions.

But set aside that entire thought and think of the movie as pure party. Think of it as a straightforward celebration of the new year, and the urges and ambitions belonging to the teenagers who live at this time. As an experience strictly based on those factors and not story, the movie has enough amusing factors to keep it from feeling abnormal and ridiculous, like "Dazed And Confused."

It all belongs to the people, the dialogue, and heck, the cigarettes. I'd just hate to picture what their lungs look like fifteen years later.

© 1999, David Keyes, Cinemaphile.org. Please e-mail the author here if the above review contains any spelling or grammar mistakes.
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