As if Playing By Heart weren’t enough, here’s another multi-character, multi-plot movie that once again gives the term Altman-esque a bad name. 200 Cigarettes is about partygoers in the East Village on New Year’s Eve, 1981, and as we bop back and forth among the many converging story lines, a troubling thought arises: None of these episodes merits our time.
The film is filled with actors you want to see – just not in this thing. Ben Affleck plays a yuppie bartender with an Adam Ant coif; Courtney Love looks world-weary smoking up a storm while trying to keep her dress on; Christina Ricci, as a Long Island teenybopper out for thrills, teeters on high heels. Janeane Garofalo, who seems to be making a career out of being far better than her movies, has the film’s sole good line: Unable to light a cigarette, she proclaims, “These matches are disappointing.” First-time director Risa Bramon Garcia is also a renowned casting director, but except for Dave Chappelle’s disco cabbie, who has a slithery rap, she lets her actors get away from her. Everybody vamps and preens as if it were amateur night in SoHo, and a few of the performers, such as Kate Hudson, appear ill-used – in several scenes, she is required to walk around in a jacket smeared with dog poop. This sort of stunt might work in a John Waters movie, but 200 Cigarettes, for all its punk trappings, is squeaky-clean. It’s all about finding love with the right partner, and there are no gender-benders, no hard-core druggies in sight. Just poop.