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The Rules of Attraction (Roger Avary, 2002)

   

    The opening moments of Roger Avaryís unfortunate The Rules of Attraction culminate with a drunken date rape during which the rapist vomits on the back of his victim. It doesnít really improve from there. Based on a novel by shock-author Bret Easton Ellis, the film follows a trio of young college students (an insecure female virgin, a borderline psychopathic drug dealer, and a desperate-to-debauch gay boy) as they become versed with the horrible truths that supposedly await them in college years. Seemingly without any moral center, each of them drudges through a series of increasingly humiliating and degrading situations in an attempt by the director to underscore their blazingly purposeless existence. A late entry in the Pulp Fiction-imitator sweepstakes (written and directed by the man who co-wrote that masterpiece), it fails to capture the truly surprising energy that made Tarantinoís film such a rare treat despite recycling its looping time structure, casual playfulness in portraying graphic sex and violence, penchant for referencing other films, and use of celebrity cameos that work against type. Every moment here that reminds the audience of another movie, reminds us of how much better it was done in that other movie. An early encounter with a drug dealer clearly pales in comparison to Alfred Molinaís scene in Boogie Nights. A scene featuring Faye Dunaway and Swoosie Kurtz as boozing, willfully ignorant gargoyles/mothers attempts to give new life to burned-out celebrities in the same way Tarantino does, but because it completely fails to remind us why we found them attractive figures in the first place, it makes for some of the most abysmal screen time of the new millennium. As the film continues its endless procession through preposterous themed parties over the course of a school year, it stretches its own credibility and, worse yet, begins to leave us numb to its cynical outlook.

   

    There are many moments interspersed throughout Rules that use camera wizardry to interesting effect, but not a single one of them feels like the work of a virtuoso, because none of them put us closer to the characters emotionally. Every bravura stunt makes its fundamental hollowness apparent by coming up desperately short of being affecting. Most of the film wants to chill the audience to the bone, but with a snickering voyeur behind the camera, itís tough to take anything seriously, much less be disturbed by any of it. No feeling that Avary reaches for resonates, though the directorial gimmickry on display keeps the endless pageant of depravity from ever being boring. As a result, the movieís attempt to make us believe the portrayal of campus life that it presents is in any way factual, or even emotionally true, falls flat. By not providing enough insight into what makes these characters so abysmal, the film seems to be suggesting that all of humanity is stuck in their rut, and since thatís clearly not true, it seems as self-absorbed as the characters it seems to be criticizing.  In the final ten minutes of the film, the most ridiculously disillusioned of the characters reaches something resembling a moral decision, and thatís supposed to turn the entire film into a crisis averted. Because of the previous hour and a halfís obvious enjoyment in portraying decadence and perversity though, I think itís pretty safe to say that the revelation of a heart at the center of The Rules of Attraction is as fraudulent and cynical as whatís come before. 

38 

09-01-03 

Jeremy Heilman