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THE RULES OF ATTRACTION

2002, dir. Roger Avary
110 min. Rated R.
Starring: James Van Der Beek, Shannyn Sossamon, Kip Pardue, Jessica Biel.

Review by Noel Wood

For the fans of the WB who've always wanted to see Dawson Leary punch Mary Camden in the face, this is the movie for you. Read no further, go and see it, enjoy.

For the rest of the world, Listen up and listen up good. I'm gonna do something I rarely do, and talk about a movie just minutes after the final credits roll. Well, first I could talk about the trailers. Not just the trailers for RULES OF ATTRACTION, mind you, which I could easily comment on the blatant gearing towards the Dubya Bee crowd, but the ones that came before the film. So here we go:

ADAPTATION: This is the new Spike Jonze/Charlie Kaufman vehicle. They're the ones who brought you BEING JOHN MALCOVITCH. Yeah, this movie looks great, Nic Cage looks like he's gonna be amazing as twins Charlie and Donald, but should I really care about an entire movie dedicated to the brothers Kaufman? Anyway, Chris Cooper is in this, and he rocks, so I'll go see it.

STAR TREK: NEMESIS: This is an even-numbered Trek film, right? Whatever it is, it looks good. I'm no Trek fan by any stretch of the imagination, but this looks likr it's gonna rock. It's supposed to be the last of the New Generation movies, so I'm wondering if they'll all buy the farm like the old cast eventually did.

PUNCH-DRUNK LOVE: This is gonna be up for best picture. All the reviews I've seen about it basically say it's the best thing P.T. Anderson has done so far, and they're already talking best actor Oscar for Adam Sandler. Wait, did I REALLY just type that? Anyway, I'm so seeing this. Multiple times even.

That's it. I love AMC Theaters. Student discounts, machines that spit out reserve tickets with no line, no commercials, no PSAs, not even really any "AMC Theaters" silly CGI bumpers. And only a few trailers, all for shit that looks good.

And then, the movie itself. I think for a second there it thought I was gonna get sidetracked and forget about it. But oh no, RULES, It's time. Okay, here's the scoop: It's not a terrible movie, but it's not a great movie either. It's terribly flawed, and unfortunately, I don't know how much of that to blame on Bret Easton Ellis, the author of the novel, or Roger Avary, who adapted it for the screen and directed it.

I'd really like to give you a quick plot summary, but that's impossible because it has none. Not that it needs it. RULES OF ATTRACTION is basically just a few days in the life of some very different college students and the paths they cross with one another. Our three main characters are introduced before the title even appears, in short as-they-were-at-that-moment passages spliced together by a pretty clever rewind gimmick. There's Lauren (Shannyn Sossamon), a pretty but naive girl who is pining for a distant love while trying not to cave in on her desires to indulge herself. Next we meet Paul (Ian Somerhalder), a homosexual who is obsessed with seducing straight boys while picking up on vibes that aren't there at all. Finally, there's Sean Bateman (James Van Der Beek), who we are introduced to as a cruel, vampirish seeker of pleasure, but later learn other facets to the character.

Anyway, Sean is getting love letters from a mystery admirer who we are led to believe could either be Lauren or Paul, and he is determined to unmask the sender at any cost. He is convinced it is Lauren, who has decided that she is willing to break her tryst with the traveling Victor to give up her innocence to Sean. Paul, on the other hand, is making every effort that he can to get into the pants of his object of lust as well. This leads to a series of sequences where lost opportunities and bizarre twists of fate take over.

Unfortunately, along the way, there are a lot of gratuitous bridges that are crossed. This movie clocks in at just over two hours, but a good half hour of that could have easily been shaved. There are numerous scenes that add nothing to the plotline but are only present for blatant shock value. For instance, it's not even necessary to know what's going on with Paul when he spends the weekend with his family, but not only did they feel the need to tell us, but presented it in a 5-minute scene in a restaurant featuring a drunken friend and flame of Paul's who makes an ass out of himself in front of both their mothers. There's also a scene involving a friend of Paul's who fakes an overdose, for no apparent reason whatsoever. The scene, like the one before it, only exist to show what's going on with Paul when he's not in the big picture, but the problem is that nobody cares.

Additional scenes thrown in gratuitously include a scene where Lauren's professor (Eric Stoltz, apparently getting his first bit of work since Avary's last film, KILLING ZOE) talks her in to servicing him, and a very graphic suicide for a character we've not even met yet. Of course, there's an air of triteness as well, as experienced in a scene where Sean receives the first snowflake on his cheek, simulating a muffled teardrop. There are also a lot of unanswered questions. Why does Sean owe local drug dealer Rupert 3 grand? Why does Lauren obsess over Victor so much? And while Victor's recounting of his Europe trip was indeed fun (although it was probably done more as an homage to Trainspotting than anything else), why should we care? Either THE RULES OF ATTRACTION was trimmed from a much larger movie, or needs to be trimmed to a much smaller movie. It's hard to tell by what we're given to work with.

Unfortunately, the characters come off rather unbelieveable as well. Sean in particular is inconsistent. One moment he's a hopeless romantic, the next he's a nymphomaniac, and then suddenly he's randomly starting shit with drug dealers for the fun of it. The character is dynamic without a realistic explanation. So he nailed the wrong girl. He shouldn't suddenly go all suicidal as a result. It's just not him. Paul is a walking talking stereotype, even if they do make a strong attempt to tone down the swish factor on him. And Lauren? Well, she's not even that interesting, and it doesn't help that little miss played-up-as-innocent is seen sitting around doing lines of coke with her dormmate.

Of course, it had its merits as well. Avary sure can paint a pretty picture, that's for sure. The movie LOOKS great. There are a lot of neat directorial gimmicks that I have to say amused me greatly, from the aforementioned backtracking to the excellent and clever split-screen Saturday morning where Sean and Lauren first meet. And there's a lot of good comedy here as well, and it's played at the right moments. The pacing is generally good, save for the unnecessary scenes. It's just unfortunate that it seemed to be marketed as a comedy for young adults. It ain't. Hell, a couple even walked out on our screening. For what it was, I was entertained throughout, warts and all. It just needed a lot of polishing.

Roger Avary, of course, helped Tarantino write PULP FICTION. From what I understand, there was an issue regarding royalties from the movie that forced a rift between the two. If that's the case, then I do have to give props to Avary for a clever little barb at Tarantino in the opening scene, which I'm assuming was in regards to the way Miramax marketed KILLING ZOE. Anyway, watch for it, it's one of the highlights of the film.

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