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ReelTalk Movie Reviews
Broken Rules
by Jeffrey Chen

For those of us not drawn to pointlessly rude, crude, and off-putting movies, The Rules of Attraction sits behind a large sign that says, "Do not enter. Wrong way." Director Roger Avary's adaptation of the Bret Easton Ellis novel showcases a trio of young students who use college as an opportunity to indulge in a world of ugly activities. Sequences drift in and out, barely connected, and, by the end, I realized I just sat around watching a bunch of losers act like losers. I wasn't sure if I was supposed to laugh at them or feel sorry for them, but I was pretty sure I didn't like them.

The movie is designed to be a satirical look at what happens to spoiled, overly bored rich kids when they get to college, a topic neither timely nor interesting. Even if I felt a tinge of fascination for this concept, I would be turned off by the movie's main problem, one shared by South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut -- it's too conscious of its own comedy. The Rules of Attraction thinks it's the funniest thing since, well, "South Park." It depicts the sorriest and most sordid of human behavior on the screen, then laughs at how clever it's being.

Just take a look at some of its scenes. See the over-played angry hick drug dealer wave a gun around while spewing dialogue that seeks the label "wickedly funny." See child actors who play angels on TV get high, stoned, and/or punched in the face. One badly-executed scene shows a doctor pronouncing a kid dead, only to have the kid get up while the doctor still tries to convince his friends that he's dead. In another scene, clearly meant to be a show-stopper, two young men have dinner with their mothers in a posh restaurant. One of the guys is particularly rude and acts spastically bored with the conversation, which can barely be maintained by the mothers because they are high after popping pills. Yes, I admit, some of this sounds amusing in words, but an air of obnoxiousness hangs over the whole thing, driven by the movie's self-consciousness. It's not asking you to laugh, it's outright telling you.

The comedy is mean-spirited -- we are invited to crack up at the protagonists' lack of civil instincts, while feeling squirmy about the dark situations they find themselves in. I have the feeling that identification with the characters was never really a goal, but if that's true, then what is the goal? Are we supposed to feel bad for them while coldly observing them from a distance? This seems to be the case, as when we're invited to watch the vivid suicide scene of a minor character. We are allowed to reflect on that character's pathetic state of being for a minute or two before we are pushed on to the next unrelated sequence. At the end of the movie, the main characters try to elicit a little pity from the audience, but by that time we're not sure if we're supposed to say, "Yeah, I understand," or sarcastically mutter, "Oh, boo hoo. Stop feeling sorry for yourself." My feelings leaned toward the latter. 

Adding to the self-conscious feel of The Rules of Attraction is Avary's use of some interesting techniques that would be  better off serving a more worthy film. What he employs -- a lot of film reversing and one particularly striking split-screen encounter -- only partially feel as if they belong. They ultimately contribute to the feel of disconnection throughout the movie and actually work better on their own (especially a fast-motion whirlwind recap of a trip through the underbelly of Europe). Within the film, they contribute to that annoying oh-so-cleverness approach I can't stop complaining about.

I have only so much patience for rude comedy and watching unsympathetic losers doing loser things for the duration of a movie. It's even worse when one of the last lines is the mournful statement, "There are many like us." It's enough to make me hurl. I should let filmmakers know when I do. I'm sure they would like to film me doing that -- and use the footage in a sequel to The Rules of Attraction. 

(Review also posted at

Released by Lions Gate Films and rated "R" for strong sexual content, drug use, language and violent images.)

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