The Rules of Attraction (2002) / Drama-Comedy

MPAA Rated: R for strong sexual content, drug use, language and violent images          
Running Time: 110 min.

Cast: James Van Der Beek, Shannyn Sossamon, Ian Somerhalder, Jessica Biel, Kip Pardue, Kate Bosworth
Director: Roger Avary
Screenplay: Roger Avary (based on the book by Bret Easton Ellis)

Review published February 23, 2003

The Rules of Attraction is a classic case of a movie that has many interesting ideas and scenes but never is able to string them together into a unified and cohesive whole.  Adapted from the book by Bret Easton Ellis (writer of the novels "Less than Zero" and "American Psycho"), this is a semi-Pulp Fiction-esque film that closely resembles another Tarantino clone, Go.  This should hardly be surprising, since writer-director Roger Avary co-developed the story around which Pulp Fiction is based around.  That's about where the similarities end, as The Rules of Attraction is as soulless and empty-headed a movie as there is, made almost laughable when it has the audacity to try to be erudite. 

The film begins at the end, the night of a big party where some strange and rather titillating events occur.  How does it end up this way?  Well, the rest of the film is told in flashbacks and fast-forwards, giving you the bits and pieces of what's going on.  The main trouble with Rules is, what's going on doesn't really amount to much, and during most of the film, nothing goes on at all.

Although an ensemble piece, Van Der Beek (Varsity Blues, Texas Rangers) is the primary star.  He plays Sean Bateman, a Camden College student who has little room in his life for going to class, as most of it is spent corralling women in the area and selling drugs.  Sean has the hots for the virginal Lauren (Sossamon, 40 Days and 40 Nights), which is primarily fueled by the love notes he has been getting in his mailbox.  Lauren also has a thing for the mostly vacant Victor (Pardue, Remember the Titans), currently seeing the sights in Europe.  Unbeknownst to either, bisexual Paul (Somerhalder, Pulse) has been thinking he has a thing going with Sean, leading to a twisted love triangle that's dysfunctional as they get.

I guess at its core, The Rules of Attraction is about the misconceptions and misunderstandings between people infatuated with each other that can cause extreme happiness or severe depression depending on the last conversation.  I say "I guess" because the main reason for Rules to exist is unclear, as it appears Avary is more content to display bodily fluids shooting out of every orifice and to hone his overly flashy technique as a director.  In fact, Avary is so obsessed with masturbation, vomiting and bathroom functions, it appears his idea of "character development" is to show people engaged in these activities whenever possible, as if we are all measured by the things we do in private that others would not care to know. 

The sum of all these scenes of prurient shallowness is watching unappealing people do unappealing things for unappealing reasons, and although Avary does eventually tone down his directorial masturbation and literary ass-scratching to give us something deeper to relate to, it's so tardy and misguided, it makes the film as a whole...well...unappealing.

Avary has some talent, don't get me wrong.  There is a suicide scene that is very interesting, and a montage of Victor's jaunt across Europe that is insanely inspired, but these are asides to the main story.  If anything, they exhibit what's wrong with Avary's film, as he appears to be a man who is only interested in the trivialities of life, and completely tangential plot elements.  While these scenes can be exhilarating in a film that is pithy and substantive, they are so independent from the main feel and thrust of the rest of the movie (which come to think of it is rather lackadaisical by comparison), that they look like they are from a different film altogether.

The Rules of Attraction is a hodge-podge of ideas without a backbone to wrap them around.  It feels like the deleted scenes of one's life that in retrospect are better off left on the cutting-room floor.  Two hours long and there's little to show for it but flashy camerawork, cartoonish characters, and a lack of vision.  Plus, many, many scenes of botched sex, messy suicidal attempts, and drug-induced nosebleeds, one would gather Avary scripted from The Rules of Repulsion instead.

Qwipster's rating:

2003 Vince Leo