Shy computer nerd Lolo (Diego Luna, "Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights") has a secret crush on his more mature neighbor Andrea (Marta Belaustegui), but when she discovers his hi-tech spying, she trashes his trove of misappropriated mementos, setting off a chain reaction like a lit fuse in "Nicotina."
Writer Martin Salinas and director Hugo Rodriguez take a page from the Guy Ritchie handbook adding a dash of romance from sister country Spain's "Kilometer Zero" for their crisscrossing characters' crises one night in Mexico City. After taking way too long to spark its many subplots, "Nicotina" smolders into an addictive romp that is at turns lightweight and grisly.
Lolo hacks into a Swiss Bank so that his buddy Nene (Lucas Crespi) can make a deal with the Russian mob for 22 diamonds. A switched diskette turns a nervous deal into a violent bloodbath. Gangster Svobdo escapes into a barbershop whose mistress Carmen (Rosa Maria Bianchi) sees his loot as her ticket out, while Nene retreats into the arms of lovely pharmacist's wife Clara (Annette Benning lookalike Carmen Madrid, "The Virgin of Lust"). Lonely Lolo makes his way home for an explosive climax.
Salinas follows a well-worn path, but has some fun incorporating the titular drug as a connective device among his thieves, lovers and tradesmen. Nene debates the effects of smoking on one's health with his older, smoke-free partner Thompson (Jesus Ochoa, "Herod's Law") like Travola expounding on the Royale with cheese in "Pulp Fiction." Nene then connects with the luminous Clara over their shared love of Tropicales, cigarettes her husband Beto (Enoc Leano) forbids her to smoke in their store. Meanwhile, in Luq, the barbershop, Carmen is aghast when her husband Goyo (Rafael Inclan) gives a senior citizen a free haircut while she can't come up with change for a pack of smokes. Director Rodriguez even begins his film foreshadowing its ending with an unlit cigarette and pot of boiling water.
Unfortunately, the film's biggest name, Diego Luna, is given the least interesting story thread, although the charming young actor continues to impress, once again delivering a character unlike any that have come before. In "Nicotina," it is Crespi's turn to be the heartthrob and he has beautiful chemistry with the older Madrid. Ochoa makes such a strong impression as Nene's paternal partner that director Rodriguez is able to tease tears with a posthumous phone message. Bianchi, as a woman unleashed by greed, and Inclan, as her disbelieving spouse, give the film some surprising doses of energy.
"Nicotina" is assembled with jazzy extreme fisheye closeups and split screens, but never achieves the balls-to-the-wall eye dazzle of forerunner "Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels." Like the film, the score takes a while to find its legs, then settles in with a confident beat. The production is modest and the concept familiar, but "Nicotina" is never a drag.
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