On the surface, 200 Cigarettes (Paramount Pictures) looks like a great movie. The film combines a hot, diverse ensemble cast with an inventive plot, unfolds in the New York City of 1981 and is backed up by great music.
Unfortunately, you’re required to analyze more than what you would expect from the movie’s previews, and what you’re left with are undeveloped characters, a confusing plot and a film only a step above disappointing.
200 Cigarettes is a comedy about the lives of a dozen average twentysomethings, all of whom are searching for love and satisfaction in New York’s artsy East Village on New Year’s Eve 1981. The film examines the hours leading up to midnight, as the various characters try to sort out their lives before coming together for the first time at a downtown house party.
The ensemble cast keeps any one actor from stealing the show. And although many big-name celebrities such as Ben Affleck (Armageddon), Courtney Love (The People vs. Larry Flynt) and Christina Ricci (The Opposite of Sex) appear in the film, they are kept on the same level as lesser known actors such as Dave Chappelle (You’ve Got Mail), Gabby Hoffman (Field of Dreams) and Martha Plimpton (Pecker). The cast also includes screen veterans such as Jay Mohr (Jerry Maguire), Paul Rudd (The Object of My Affection) and Janeane Garofalo (Clay Pigeons).
The short film (97 minutes) never gives the characters a chance to fully develop, and the audience often is left uninformed about the nature of the relationships and personalities the film explores. Even the characters’ names are confusing. All of them are referred to by only their first names – or no name at all as with Ben Affleck’s “Bartender.” Without a scorecard, the names get jumbled.
Adding to the confusion is the fact that the story never comes together until the credits roll. While many scenes are well done, funny or extremely interesting, the plot as a whole is as scattered and arbitrary as the confusing city streets through which Ricci’s and Hoffman’s characters try to navigate.
The acting also leaves something to be desired. While none of the performances are bad, many of the scenes are dry and underacted. Much of the dialogue comes off as forced- once again due to the limited amount of time the characters have to explain themselves.
The film is not a complete disaster, however, with many saving moments and funny scenes such as those that occur inside the swanky Checker Cab or those in the bar where the bartender tries to work his charm on two women simultaneously.
The producers of the film did a great job of recreating the ambiance of the ’80s in one of the first of what undoubtedly will be a long line of ’80s revival films. Although some parts of the setting seem a bit exaggerated, it provides a welcomed colorful glimpse into a time in which most viewers actually lived. The soundtrack brings together some of the biggest hits of the era, such as songs by Blondie and Elvis Costello, who, in the best few seconds of the film, makes a rare cameo appearance.
Overall, the film is a letdown. If you’re going to see it solely for the sake of the hunky Ben Affleck, you’ll be disappointed – he had a bigger role in Mallrats. At least Courtney Love doesn’t try to sing.