- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 12, 2002

An ironic title, "The Rules of Attraction" revels in images of repulsion. Since most of them depend on depraved undergraduates at a

citadel of vice called Camden College, the film may appeal to college-age moviegoers who may overrate it as an "Animal House" that dares to be blackhearted.

The viciousness is faithfully derived by director-screenwriter Roger Avary from a novel by the prolific and incorrigible Bret Easton Ellis. A fraternal connection even exists between "Rules" and "American Psycho."

One of the principal characters in the former, Mr. Ellis' second novel, published several years ago, is an aspiring campus drug dealer named Sean Bateman, impersonated by an unwary and ridiculous James Van Der Beek of "Dawson's Creek." Sean's older brother, Patrick, was the seductive homicidal maniac of Mr. Ellis' "American Psycho," published later but filmed earlier.

Mr. Avary is a former crony of Quentin Tarantino; they shared a screenwriting Academy Award for "Pulp Fiction." It's sort of second nature for Mr. Avary to greet the prospect of criminal or degenerate behavior with a whoop of obscene enthusiasm.

"Rules" shuttles between Mr. Van Der Beek, a set of sex-crazed coed roommates played by Shannyn Sossamon and Jessica Biel, and a lovelorn "bisexual" played by Ian Somerhalder. There's also a lovelorn mystery girl on the periphery and a late-blooming wretch out of left field played by Kip Pardue, the focus in a whirlwind sequence about his sex-drenched holiday in Europe.

Sean, reputedly a freshman, although Mr. Van Der Beek seems to be abusing the age limits beyond all reason, hires himself out to a ranting dealer called Rupert, who is also addicted to an extreme bad word and allows Clifton Collins Jr. to wear out a monstrous welcome within a minute or so. There's no indication that Sean actually justifies his existence in Rupert's eyes by recruiting a college-punk clientele, but the context permits Mr. Van Der Beek to strike a number of defiantly unattractive poses: seated on the commode; punching Miss Biel in the face; attempting to hang himself (although one does applaud the idea itself as a just and merciful gesture); covered in urine after passing out from a pill overdose.

If anyone wants to look scuzzier than Mr. Van Der Beek in "Rules," he will have his work cut out for him.

Other members of the cast have more effective demented arias: Mr. Collins as Rupert; Mr. Pardue as the libertine Victor; and Russell Sams as a spoiled-rotten fruitcake called Dick, who gets to disgrace his hapless society mother (Swoosie Kurtz) during a luncheon date on campus.

Miss Sossamon's character, Lauren, supposedly pines for Victor, a recent boyfriend. This need prompts her to participate in an interlude of gang rape during one of two party sequences. Anyway, it delights Mr. Avary to do so much backtracking with the plot and so much reverse motion in individual sequences that one tends to lump all the orgies together for the sake of convenience.

Every so often a wave of sentiment catches up with Mr. Avery, prompting the suggestion that his young wastrels should be mistaken for the beautiful and the damned of a new generation. What really appears to excite his interest are opportunities for pictorial set pieces.

For example, there's one elaborately clever sequence in which Mr. Van Der Beek and Miss Sossamon are tracked heading to the same location on a split screen. They meet and talk to each other while looking at the camera directly from opposite sides of the split image. Then Mr. Avary hinges the split in a way that places one actor in the left of the frame and the other in the right, now facing each other and conversing in a single wide-angle composition.

It's pretty slick, but it demonstrates a kind of dexterity that would be more satisfying in a movie that was maybe 90 percent playful and agreeable and only fitfully, inadvertently repulsive. Unfortunately, "Rules" is repulsive at least 90 percent of the time.


TITLE: "The Rules of Attraction"

RATING: R (Systematic depictions of sexual depravity among college students; frequent profanity; episodes of drug and alcohol abuse; occasional graphic violence, nudity and simulations of intercourse)

CREDITS: Written and directed by Roger Avary, based on the novel by Bret Easton Ellis.

RUNNING TIME: 104 minutes


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