A hip young cast is made to look desperately unhip in “200 Cigarettes,” a dismally unfunny farce about a group of aggressively self-absorbed characters looking for a good time in New York City on New Year’s Eve, 1981. Catchy title, campaign and soundtrack could ignite some initial teen B.O., but word-of-mouth will insure that a surgeon general’s report won’t be needed to warn people off of this one.
Presence of 11 — count ’em, 11 — producers on this featherweight project will provide ammo for those who like to point out the involvement of too many cooks on film projects, as well as for those who like to ask, “Didn’t any of them read the script?” It’s clear from the first few minutes that the performers are fighting an uphill battle against lame material, and the situation never improves as pic labors on.
First-time screenwriter Shana Larsen approaches her ensemble piece with two ploys: to send unattached, on-the-prowl scenesters out into the East Village streets anxious to party, and to so woefully mismatch those who are paired up as evening begins that they’re motivated to make changes by night’s end. In both cases, desperate and predatory personality traits come immediately to the fore rather than anything that might make one take an interest in any of these unamusingly maladroit characters.
Flimsy framework is provided by a party that Monica (Martha Plimpton) hopes will be happening in her loft; however, she becomes increasingly depressed and paranoid as the hour presses ever closer to midnight and the only guest to have shown up is her pushy ex-boyfriend Eric (Brian McCardie), who comes to rue his demanding to know the real reason Monica stopped seeing him.
Only marginally more engaging are Lucy (Courtney Love) and Kevin (Paul Rudd), platonic roommates with very different agendas for the evening; the one-track-minded Lucy wants to score with the first attractive guy she spots, who turns out to be a bartender (Ben Affleck), while the morose Kevin basically wants to kill himself over his breakup with tart-tongued performance artist Ellie (Janeane Garofalo).
Out looking for kicks are two pairs of girls, dim-bulb suburbanites Val (Christina Ricci) and Stephie (Gaby Hoffmann), who are pursued by a couple of freaky looking punks (Casey Affleck, Guillermo Diaz), and the coarse Bridget (Nicole Parker) and Caitlyn (Angela Featherstone), who also set their sights on the bartender.
Last and almost certainly least is a pathetic little story strand devoted to a naive and prim young lady, Cindy (Kate Hudson), who has just lost her virginity the night before to Jack (Jay Mohr), a polite but callow fellow whose big complaint in life is that women immediately fall in love with him the first time he takes them to bed. Dave Chappelle eagerly plays a cabbie who picks up a number of the night prowlers along the way.
Most of the relentless chatter here centers on the characters’ speculation about their sex lives: whom they might hook up with, why so-and-so decided to break up, if someone’s attractive or not, and so on. No irony or point-of-view is applied to their heated quests for self-gratification, nor is any used in the portrait of the colorful period, a moment immediately pre-AIDS awareness when the sexual freedom and cultural anarchy of the late ’70s was about to change. Pic becomes as frenetically absorbed in the characters’ immediate dilemmas as they are, to extremely tiresome results.
It’s questionable if any director could have surmounted the script’s limitations, but vet casting director Risa Bramon Garcia, in her helming debut, indulges far too much in farcical pratfalls that don’t feel right in context. Of the performers, only Garofalo and Ben Affleck manage to project any wit that cracks through the prevailing humorlessness.
Befitting a picture co-produced by MTV, the proceedings are wallpapered with vintage tunes — 49 of them, to be precise — with an emphasis on Blondie and Elvis Costello, the latter of whom pops up briefly as himself. Tech considerations are just so-so, with several badly matched cuts jumping out in distracting fashion.