200 Cigarettes
directed by Risa Bramon Garcia
(Paramount, 1999)

299 Cigarettes is an engaging mishmash of vignettes surrounding the events of a loosely connected bunch of people in New York City on New Year's Eve, 1981. The large cast, wandering the city in groups of two to four, circle around the party they'll all eventually attend as they hammer their way through a variety of personal and interpersonal issues.

Writer Shana Larsen and director Risa Bramon Garcia have tied their characters' storylines together in a cleverly woven pattern which can be hard to unravel after only one viewing of the film. But it's fun to watch, nonetheless, as Kevin (Paul Rudd) and Lucy (Courtney Love) engage in their pseudo-mating dance, as Val (Christina Ricci) and Stephie (Gaby Hoffman) wander the city streets in search of a missing address and a good time, as Kaitlyn (Angela Featherstone) and Bridget (Nicole Parker) seek sexual prey with the same singlemindedness of sharks hunting lunch, as Eric (Brian McCardie) scrabbles for reassurance of his sexual competence, and as Monica (Martha Plimpton) begs the fates for someone -- anyone -- to show up at her party.

The connections among these characters (and several more besides) grow in complexity as the evening draws on. Many, at one time or another, end up riding through the city in a cab driven by the philosophical and amorous "disco cabbie" (David Chappelle), who is apparently the only working taxi driver in New York for the holiday.

Other members of the revolving cast are Jack (Jay Mohr), a roving sexual predator who's not looking for love; Cindy (Kate Hudson), Jack's recently deflowered, still naive and terribly clumsy date; the butter-fingery bartender (Ben Affleck), who is a temporary target for many; Ellie (Janeane Garofola), Kevin's recent ex who overanalyzes the minutiae of her relationships; Tom (Casey Affleck) and Dave (Guillermo Diaz), a pair of stoners hoping for holiday romance; and Elvis Costello as, well, Elvis Costello.

There are no great conclusions or revelations by film's end, although you may be surprised where some of these interwoven threads eventually lead. 200 Cigarettes is a clever collage about angst, neuroses and other problems -- and maybe a small bit of love, too -- in the lives of a handful of young people desperate to have a good time. The touches of early '80s nostalgia are cute but not overbearing. All in all, the film certainly deserves two hours of your time.

[ by Tom Knapp ]

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