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Friday, February 26, 1999

Smoking cast -- but no fire

Movie: 200 Cigarettes

Posted on Fri, Feb 26, 1999 at 4:00 AM

**
Our Rating: 2.00

New Year's Eve, 1981. Big party at Monica's place in the East Village. Much tension for Monica (Martha Plimpton) because nobody's shown up yet. Everybody's dealing with the pressures and problems of a Big Night Out.

Monica's cousin from Long Island (Christina Ricci) and her reluctant pal (Gaby Hoffman) can't find the right address and are shadowed by two vaguely distasteful punkers (Casey Affleck, Guillermo Diaz). Monica's ex-boyfriend (Brian McCardie) is escorting two predatory partygoers (Nicole Parker, Angela Featherstone), who after hitting a nightclub suddenly decide anyone else's company is better, especially the bartender's (Ben Affleck). But the bartender is making eyes at Monica's slutty friend (Courtney Love), who is out with her best pal (Paul Rudd), who has just been dumped by a performance artist (Janeane Garofalo).

Somehow they all end up dealing with a hip, advice-dispensing taxi driver (Dave Chappelle), whose fare is a virgin (Kate Hudson), who just hooked up with the philandering actor (Jay Mohr), who later runs into his ex (Jennifer Albano).

It's all too cool, with a retro-'80s soundtrack and a dream cast drawn substantially from hip independent films and television shows. First-time director Risa Bramon Garcia employed most of them in her previous life as a Hollywood casting honcho.

The various cliques, though, never appear in the same scenes, making the movie quite a bit disjointed -- a problem exacerbated by Garcia's inexperience. But it's also writer Shana Larsen's first produced screenplay, and you can tell she's struggling with continuity and tone. The result is an uneven build-up to the big party that includes large dollops of saggy monologues salted between too-small bites of inspired comedy.

That said, let's look at the bright spots. Specifically, look closely at versatile Ricci and ambitious Love. Ricci is almost unrecognizable as a tarty teen-age temptress, and she steals your eye in her every scene. Love overcomes dirty hair and bad teeth to be convincing as a woman who equates a toilet stall with a boudoir.

"200 Cigarettes" may not pose a serious danger to your health, but it's probably best consumed privately, on your own VCR, with your own Jiffy Pop and your hippest finger-pointing friends handy for pop-culture jokery.

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