"You'll Actually Be Counting the Cigarettes For Boredom"
200 Cigarettes (*) - In the first screenwriting class I took at Columbia, one of the students was working on a script called 20 Cigarettes. This is no joke. It was a gimmick piece, like the film Twenty Bucks, about the adventures that one guy goes on with a single packet of cigarettes. His pitch of this half-realized idea was more interesting than anything that happens in the film that supposedly contains 10 times as many cigarettes as his treatment. But this film’s title isn’t about a gimmick - since I don’t think the filmmakers even gave a second thought to how many Cancer sticks actually appear in the film. Frankly, I don’t think they gave a first thought to anything in this film, if they’ve even got a thought in their head to begin with.We’ve seen millions of films like this before - a great deal of under-the-title supporting actors all team up in a single movie to find the meaning of love or life or second hand smoke. Sometimes it works (Indian Summer), sometimes it just misses (the recent Playing By Heart) and sometimes you get a film like 200 Cigarettes. I think that if the top film critics of the world sat down with the world’s top scientists, they still could not decipher what this film is supposed to be about. I’ve at least heard plausible theories in the explanation of David Lynch’s Lost Highway, but 200 Cigarettes plays out like a series of set pieces where actors were given a one-note description of their character and then told to improvise like it was Blue in the Face. Only problem is that none of the actors are very good at improvisation. I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt though and blame the screenwriter who should be given some kind of trophy for creating not a single character of any interest nor with anything interesting to say or do resulting in an climax that even a hooker would be disappointed in. Basically everyone gets together at a party and has sex, but usually not with the character that you think they were destined for - which means that most of them end up sleeping with strangers - maybe this is the lone comment of the film - that the year of 1981 was one of the last years before AIDS became a true staple of the dating world. The writing of this film is so bad that I’ll bet money that the best line of the film was ad-libbed by Ben Affleck. I’m going to spoil it here as to save you two hours of your life - but Ben plays what appears to be kind of a shy bartender who sits down at a table with two women to spout a familiar pick-up line about “his clothes looking good next to theirs on the floor” - but then he asks “How do you like your eggs in the morning? Scrambled or fertilized.” I was dying. It comes out of nowhere because the writing was never that good before and never got that good again. Maybe its an unoriginal pick-up line - but I’ve never heard it before and that was good enough for me. The only other funny moment comes as the wrap-up scene at the very end as Dave Chappelle, the cab driver, spouts off on a recollection of photos from the lame party - like he was still in Half Baked. Elvis Costello is also on display in one of the most inexplicable cameos in film history. Most audience members didn’t even pick up on him cutting his way through a conversation in the street with the words “Excuse me”. Plus, for a film set in 1981, couldn’t we have done better than to just use old songs to identify the era. I bet they even got that wrong and most of the songs weren’t even recorded yet.At least The Wedding Singer had a big sense of humor about the pop culture references of its 1985 time setting and The Last Days of Disco had something to say about the exact same time period. This is the version of The Last Days of Disco they play on the monitor in Darwin’s waiting room.