A hefty hip quotient and larky attitude toward violence can't conceal the basic tawdriness of "Nicotina," an adrenaline-fueled, determinedly outrageous crime meller that owes more than any film should, at this point, to Quentin Tarantino and Guy Ritchie.

A hefty hip quotient and larky attitude toward violence can’t conceal the basic tawdriness of “Nicotina,” an adrenaline-fueled, determinedly outrageous crime meller that owes more than any film should, at this point, to Quentin Tarantino and Guy Ritchie. A delineation of the massive unintended effects of an out-of-control scam, Hugo Rodriguez’s second feature is recognizably part of the energized Mexican new wave, though nothing to write home about artistically. But pic’s playful, irreverent attitude, however self-conscious, as well as the presence of “Y tu mama” co-star Diego Luna, will give it a good profile on the fest circuit and commercial allure in many territories.

Luna plays Lolo, a reclusive computer hacker who has two days to fulfill an assignment to break into some Swiss bank accounts. Lolo’s illicit activities further extend to spying on his attractive neighbor Andrea (Marta Belaustegui), in whose apartment he has secretly installed a surveillance camera.

Native Argentinian Rodriguez, whose previous feature was “In the Middle of Nowhere” in 1993 and who once worked as Alfonso Cuaron’s assistant director, and scripter Martin Salinas dwell on this preliminary to the main action far too long, the comic spin slowing to near zero during some slapsticky nonsense involving the key to Andrea’s flat and Lolo finally being found out by the furious woman.

Action then shifts to the nocturnal streets, where Lolo and cohorts El Nene (Lucas Crespi) and Tomson (Jesus Ochoa) attempt to chase down some diamonds. To this end, they cross paths with Russian mobsters, a pair of bickering pharmacists and a henpecked barber and his ferocious wife, all of whom are near the end of their tethers and more than one of whom spill ample amounts of blood.

Dramatic tactic is to draw the characters in the broadest of terms, stick them in a pressure cooker and then, in approximate Tarantino fashion, have them indulge in humorously incongruous debates about coincidence, fate and, as per the title, the metaphysical ramifications of smoking vs. no smoking. Pic tries to shore up its discussion of destiny and free will by backdropping it with the spectacle of random accidental deaths, but plot feels far more engineered for rude surprises than it does organically developed to posit a coherent worldview or even to advance an argument, making specious its modest claims to seriousness.

Still, approach yields up plenty of opportunities for heated confrontations, wild and woolly dialogue and startling violence, which prove diverting in a shallow way and will be enough for auds accustomed to dining out on large servings of darkly comic attitude. Thesps dive in head first, sparking juicy (and often literally sweaty) histrionics across the boards.

Busy soundtrack mixes a throbbing techno beat with ’50s-style lounge jazz for intended cool result. Film’s effectiveness could have been upgraded by several notches with hot visuals, but high def shooting — virtually all at night — is muddy and downright ugly at times.

Nicotina

Mexico-Argentina-Spain

Production

A Cacerola Films/Altavista Films/Videocine presentation in coproduction with Arca Difusion/Oberon Cinematografica with the support of Fondo de Inversion y Estimulos al Cine Fidecine. (International sales: Altavista Films S.A. de C.V., Mexico City.) Produced by Laura Imperiale, Martha Sosa. Executive producers, Monica Lozano, Imperiale, Federico Gonzalez Compean, Eckehardt Von Damm. Coproducers, Liliana Mazure, Antonio Chavarrias. Directed by Hugo Rodriguez. Screenplay, Martin Salinas.

Crew

Camera (color, HD), Marcelo Iaccarino; editor, Alberto de Toro; music, Fernando Corona "Terrestre"; music supervisor, Herminio Gutierrez; art director, Sandra Cabriada; set decorator, Dario Ramos; costume designer, Alejandra Dorantes; sound (Dolby Digital), Nerio Barberis, Lena Eskenazi; associate producers, Rodriguez, Salinas, Alejandro Clancy.. Reviewed at Toronto Film Festival (Contemporary World Cinema), Sept. 11, 2003. (Also in AFI Los Angeles Film Festival -- competing.) Running time: 90 MIN.

With

Lolo - Diego Luna Beto - Daniel Gimenez Cacho Tomson - Jesus Ochoa El Nene - Lucas Crespi Goyo - Rafael Inclan Carmen - Rosa Maria Bianchi Andrea - Marta Belaustegui Clara - Carmen Madrid Svoboda - Norman Sotolongo
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