The Rules of Attraction

 
Laura Clifford 
Robin Clifford 
At Camden College, where dope, partying and sex rule, Sean Bateman (James van der Beek, TV's "Dawson's Creek"), brother of American Psycho Patrick, is intrigued by the mysterious love letters he thinks are being left by Lauren (Shannyn Sossamon, "40 Days and 40 Nights").  Lauren's romantic thoughts are directed towards Victor (Kip Pardue, "Driven"), who's busy sleeping his way through Europe.  Meanwhile, her ex, Paul Denton (Ian Somerhalder, "Life as a House"), is becoming inflamed by Sean in writer/director Roger Avary's ("Killing Zoe") adaptation of Brett Easton Ellis' "The Rules of Attraction."
Laura:
This isn't your typical romantic roundelay.  Roger Avary has taken Ellis' 1980's satire of debauched delinquents into the present day as a cruelly funny twist on teen comedy packed with inventive cinematic tricks and an ironically killer soundtrack.  Both James van der Beek and Fred Savage (TV's "The Wonder Years") gleefully trash preconceptions in eye-opening performances.

The living dead who attend Camden College spend far more effort on things like The Dress to Get Screwed Party than classes.  The film begins at the brutal end, with a drunken Lauren inadvertently starring in an amateur porn film after receiving a vicious snarl from a cynical Paul while Sean, declaring himself an emotional vampire, beads in on his next screw (Kate Bosworth, "Blue Crush").

A sunlit campus montage bridges us back to the story's beginning.  Virginal Lauren tries to remain focused by looking at pictures in a medical book on venereal diseases, but when she goes to a Saturday lecture she finds the professor (Eric Stoltz) passed out amidst half empty wine bottles and half smoked joints.  Leaving she runs into Sean, the college dealer, who is roused out of his usual base running inner commentary ('Should I screw her?' 'I'm hungry') to notice another human being for a change.  He doesn't notice that Paul, who lures him to his room with an excuse to smoke a joint, is so aroused by him that he masturbates on an upper bunk bed, but vaguely agrees to Paul's continued invitations, unconsciously leading the lad along.

The story is stuffed with sidetracks, such as Sean's attempt to get paid back by a hilariously out-of-it Marc (Savage), and segues like his visit to the coke-addled townie (Clifton Collins, Jr., "Traffic") he owes and unwisely provokes.  Paul's called home to visit mom (Faye Dunaway), but she and childhood friend Dick's mom (Swoozie Kurtz) wash pills down with Tom Collinses at a lunch Dick (Russell Sams in an outrageously memorable bit part) tips into "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas" territory.  A reference to Victor takes us on a mini-whirlwind trip to Europe that could stand on its own (Avary is reportedly considering fleshing this out into another feature), just before Victor returns to disillusion Lauren.

The soul-bereft students who attempt to stagger out of the cesspool all end in a state of rage that's at least more self aware than the vapid debauchery going on within.  Innocence, most horribly embodied by the cafeteria girl who's really writing those purple notes to Sean, is not only lost, but trampled on.

Yet Avary makes all this nastiness entertaining.  He connects his three main character's stories in the first scene using a rewind devise that crosscuts among them.  Most inventive is a split screen presentation of Lauren and Sean's morning ministrations that ends with a walk down a school corridor that merges the shots into one.  Songs such as "Six Different Ways," "Gentlemen Who Fell" and "Afternoon Delight" comment on the action while music offers such stylistic flourishes as cliched horror harpsichord. Avary gets some stellar turns from surprising casting, most particularly from van der Beek, who turns himself into a psychopath with a tantalizing possibility of redemption.

B+

Robin:
Sean Bateman (James Van Der Beek) attends class at Camden College, somewhere in New England, with only passing interest in academia. Paul Denton (Ian Somerhalder) is a spoiled rich kid with a libertine's heart and a leaning toward any pretty face around - whether male or female. Lauren Hynde (Shannyn Sossamon) is confused and beautiful and maintains that her boyfriend is the globe trotting Victor (Kip Pardue). On Saturday nights the campus comes alive with various apocalyptic parties and the three members of the Camden student body learn that the one rule is that there are no rules in "The Rules of Attraction."

Director/writer Roger Avary, who made his helming debut with his 1994 film "Killing Zoe" and co wrote the Cannes Palme d'Or winner "Pulp Fiction" with Quentin Tarantino, returns to the helm for his sophomore effort, "The Rules of Attraction." He begins his modern tale of college life, where attending class takes a distant back seat to the frequent wild parties, such as The End of the World Party and the very popular The Dress to Get Screwed Party, with virginal Lauren tying one on and hoping she'll get together, in an intimate way, with Victor. Things don't go as planned and she passes out, only to wake up to the thrusts of a party crashing townie while being video taped by a film student. As the local kid starts to toss his cookies the action reverses and time rolls back through the party to Paul.

Paul is intent on scoring with a member of the sex, any sex, but he really wants to do Sean. He hooks up with another drunken student but his new friend objects, strongly, to Paul's amorous advances. Again, the camera runs backward and rests upon the battered face of Sean who is obviously in an extremely agitated state and, though really interested in Lauren - see her situation above - he ends up going through the motions with another coed (Kate Bosworth). Avary uses this device of running back time to good effect as he changes the camera's direction when it starts running forward again, introducing the various characters in a clever and imaginative way.

Besides the stories of the three leads, we meet those around them and they are a varied and interesting crew indeed. Victor's extended tours of Europe keep him away from Lauren, whose roommate Lara (Jessica Biel) is her good and trusted friend - unless her libido dictates otherwise. Meanwhile, Sean is in Dutch for three grand to crazy, drug dealing, gun-toting townie, Rupert (Clifton Collins, Jr.), and drags his friend Mitchell (Thomas Ian Nicholas) into the quagmire. Mr. Lance Lawson (Eric Stoltz), one of the school's professors, thinks he's cool, attends the parties and trades oral sex with pretty coeds in exchange for a better GPA. Paul's mom Mrs. Denton (Faye Dunaway) wiles away her copious free time enjoying cocktails and prescription drugs with her friend Mrs. Jared (Swoozie Kurtz) whose son (and Paul's friend) Dick (Russell Sams) doesn't care what he says or when - even at lunchtime in a posh restaurant. Fred Savage, as Sean's friend Marc, gets stoned and uses his navel as a cigarette holder while playing the clarinet.

Avary does a fine job of moving his talented and likable (except, maybe, for crazy Rupert) cast through the sometimes bizarre, sometimes frank and frequently funny tale of hedonism and America's college youth. It's an ensemble effort, really, but there is a hierarchy with Van Der Beck, Somerhalder and Sossamon providing the depth to their characters to make you like them, even the selfish Paul Denton. Van Der Beck, in particular, stands out as Sean, a guy who may have a glimmer of humanity. But, then again, maybe not. His character is, after all, cut from the same clothe as brother Patrick, whose exploits in Brett East Ellis's ultra violent "American Psycho" gave self-indulgence new meaning. Somerhalder, as the profligate Paul, doesn't extend beyond his selfish ways, nor does he want to. Sossamon  is pretty, large-eyed and waif like but doesn't endear.

The supporting cast all have great good fun in their various roles with Kip Pardue getting front and center attention in a rapid fire, manic montage that has him traveling from London to Amsterdam to Paris to Dublin to Switzerland to Venice, Florence and Rome then back to London, always in search of sex, drugs and rock'n'roll. It is a fabulous sequence and almost worth the price of admission alone. Fortunately, the rest of the film is worth it, too.

The film sometimes flags when it concentrates on the hit and miss relationship between Sean and Lauren, but there is enough secondary action to keep things moving along at a brisk, amusing pace. Helmer Avary works well with his young cast and musters the technical aspects assuredly. I give it a B.

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