From the title of 200 Cigarettes, one might assume that it is either a propaganda film from the tobacco lobby, or a comical entry for the Guinness Book of World Records. However, in actuality, the film turns out to be a threadbare ensemble comedy, struggling to be an 80s nostalgia film, and failing. In fact, the 200 of the title could be a reference to the number of minute subplots in the film, each of which holds about as much substance as a wisp of cigarette smoke.
The film is set on New Year’s Eve, 1981. Monica (Martha Plimpton) is hosting a party, and the film cuts back and forth between many of her invited guests as they meander their way across New York City, slowly making their way to her apartment.
There’s not really a main plotline, but the subplot with the most prominence is that of Lucy (Courtney Love) and Kevin (Paul Rudd). Kevin has just painfully broken up with his girlfriend, Ellie (Janeane Garofalo), and Lucy wants to cheer him up by taking him to the party. However, as the night progresses, it is obvious that a romance is budding between the two. But, can Paul recover from his break-up in time to notice Lucy? Or is this match not meant to be?
The search for love is common throughout most of 200 Cigarettes’ myriad subplots. For example, a clumsy, but earnest girl (Kate Hudson), can’t help falling in love with a love-phobic lout (Jay Mohr). Or, two lost Long Island girls (Christina Ricci and Gaby Hoffman) discover love in the most unlikeliest of places. The emcee for the evening is a disco-friendly cab driver (Dave Chappelle) who manages to meet just about everyone that night.
The main problem with 200 Cigarettes is a common one to the ensemble comedy. Very few of the film’s subplots actually work, and the film spends far too little time with them. Instead, we are constantly reunited with barely recognizable characters we care little about in situations both tedious and contrived.
The actors in 200 Cigarettes aren’t able to help matters much. Christina Ricci is buried beneath her screech of a New Yawk accent. Ben Affleck wanders aimlessly through his scenes as a highly desirable bartender. Jay Mohr’s character inexplicably takes a 180 degree turn halfway through the film. Kate Hudson is lost amid some uninspired bits of slapstick. Paul Rudd and Courtney Love are nearly the only appealing ones in the film, but there is far too little of them to be spread around.
The film is set in 1981, but that seems to be more of a marketing ploy than an actual setting. There’s nary a nostalgic bone to be found in this body. Sure, barely a moment goes by without an early 80s song floating by… but, if you’re wise, you’ll buy the soundtrack, and skip the movie.
200 Cigarettes is not an absolute disaster. It’s more like a crowded party in which there are only one or two interesting people. Awkward, overcrowded and mostly boring…it’s not a party to remember.