Mike D'Angelo
September 03, 1999 AT 04:00 AM EDT

200 Cigarettes

type
Movie
Current Status
In Season
mpaa
R
Wide Release Date
02/26/99
performer
Kate Hudson, Courtney Love, Jay Mohr, Christina Ricci, Paul Rudd, Ben Affleck, Casey Affleck, Dave Chappelle, Janeane Garofalo, Gaby Hoffmann, Catherine Kellner, Martha Plimpton
director
Risa Bramon Garcia
author
Shana Larsen
genre
Comedy

We gave it an A

It may be true that familiarity breeds contempt, but try telling that to the Hollywood execs clamoring for a piece of the all-important youth market. ”Yo, teenage consumer with gobs of discretionary income!” the ads for many of today’s movies implicitly blare. ”Remember this? You loved this, right? Wanna come and experience something not entirely unlike it? Please?” Three recent box office disappointments now appearing on video demonstrate the folly of the studios’ hopeful mantra: If we rebuild it, maybe they will come.

The desire to recapture the anomalous magic of Pulp Fiction has led to dozens of unwatchable juxtapositions of gut-churning violence and pop-culture trivia, and there was every reason to fear that Go would be yet another example of Tarantino Lite. But Director Doug Liman (Swingers) and screenwriter John August seem to have actually learned something from their source. Telling three interrelated stories of perverse mayhem, they inventively combine QT’s predilection for narrative tomfoolery with the rewind-and-follow-these-guys-this-time structure that Jim Jarmusch used in Mystery Train and Night on Earth.

And while all of Pulp Fiction‘s familiar elements — drugs, guns, title cards, earnest discussions of irrelevant minutiae, a thoroughbred cast (Sarah Polley, Timothy Olyphant, Katie Holmes, Jay Mohr) — are present and accounted for, Go has a reckless, rave-fueled energy all its own. For once, the various convergences and digressions don’t feel like trendy posturing. Why Go failed to attract the audience it deserved still boggles the mind. Maybe kids weaned on popular-stud-high-school-dweebette love stories and football-hero fantasies found this cinematic depth charge, one without a textbook in sight, a little too grown-up; but until it finally peters out, Go actually merits comparison to The Indie That Ate the World.

An attempt to milk Gen-X nostalgia, meanwhile, is the badly misguided rationale behind 200 Cigarettes, a limp mix-and-match romantic roundelay set, for no apparent reason apart from the desire to include a lot of songs by the likes of Soft Cell and Bow Wow Wow, on New Year’s Eve, 1981. First-time director Risa Bramon Garcia made her name in the casting biz, and she’s assembled a truly stunning group of actors: Christina Ricci, Janeane Garofalo, Courtney Love, Jay Mohr again, Martha Plimpton, Ben and Casey Affleck, etc., all of whom flounder about like very hip goldfish in search of a pool of mineral water. The peril of employing a multi-thread narrative is that some story lines may be more compelling than others, so that you find yourself impatient to get back to the one involving so-and-so; here, all of the threads are equally monotonous, so that instead you find yourself wincing roughly every four minutes. The good news is that much of the witless dialogue is drowned out by the deluge of new-wave hits; the bad news, for the uncharacteristically clueless MTV suits who produced this anachronism, is that today’s teens were born too late to have heard ’em the first time around.

Another tried and occasionally true method of stoking the Proustian flame is to resurrect a much-loved TV series. Trouble is, it’s now been tried so many times that only the most irrevocably desiccated corpses remain in the coaxial graveyard. Witness, for example, The Mod Squad, a painfully inept update of the late-’60s-early-’70s cop drama in which three young hoodlums (Claire Danes, Omar Epps, Giovanni Ribisi) are recruited as undercover police officers. Divorced from its original context of Vietnam-era uneasiness about rebellious adolescents — the filmmakers have to define ”mod” on screen for their target audience — the movie makes no sense, a fact that director-cowriter Scott Silver underlines with a cops-on-the-take plot that is somehow both mindless and impossible to follow. Worse, the titular trio come across less like dangerous delinquents than like jet-lagged fashion models — especially Danes, whose ”hard as they come” reformed drug addict spends the entire flick biting her lower lip and gazing moistly into the distance. Imitation, it seems, isn’t always the sincerest form of flattery.

Go: B+
200 Cigarettes: D+
The Mod Squad: F

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