The last thing I want to do is preen like a baby boomer on a nostalgia bender, especially since my DOB makes me a legitimate, if not enthusiastic, Gen X'er. But here it goes: Remember when films about sex, drugs and all things collegiate were beer-bloated romps filled with frat party mayhem, off campus hijinx and harmless bonking? Hardly a high-minded genre, but with the right ingredients it yielded such gems as Animal House, The Sure Thing and, more recently, the amusingly ridiculous Tom Green vehicle, Road Trip.
Enter the age of irony and affluence -- Hollywood doesn't do recessions -- and the student body has changed less in content than in tone. Roger Avary's The Rules of Attraction, is short on keg-stand shibboleths, but brims with nihilistic humor and product placement. New England's Camden College is at once a holding tank for affluent white drug enthusiasts, and, seemingly, a nonstop photo shoot for College Girls Gone Wild. It is here that Sean Bateman (Dawson's Creek hottie James Van Der Beek) keeps the campus high on overpriced cocaine while using his towering forehead to brood about some purported lack of emotional fulfillment. His internal monologue consists of smug assessments regarding sexual prospects, though I couldn't help wondering if his rage was not the result of looking too much like Ben Affleck.
Even for those eager to doff their sense of disbelief, it's an effort to overlook the fact that the students of Camden College do not attend classes. When professors bother to show up, like a lascivious Eric Stolz, it's only to exchange sexual favors for grades. No one seems to mind, of course, as they're otherwise immersed in a trance of bubble blowing, hacky sacking, and other indulgences.
Thank Jebus for gay men, though, as they throw the only breath of originality into this sorry effort. Paul (Ian Somerhalder), when not hanging with his nerdy click of histrionic homos, pines for Sean, who in turn pines for the bohemian Lauren (Shannyn Sossamon), who tries to curb her sexual curiosity by pouring over photos of venereal diseases. When Sean drowns his sorrows between the thighs of Lauren's bimbo roommate, much pouting ensues. If nothing else the bisexual love triangle manages to stick a band aid over tiresome cliches and a testosterone overload.
James Avary, co-wrote the screenplay to Pulp Fiction and directed Killing Zoe, which perhaps explains the cameos of Stoltz and, gasp, Faye Dunaway. Avary offers no shortage of film-school hocus pocus, most notably in the opening party scene, where Sean, Ian and Lauren have all gotten themselves into various messes: The narrative departs from there, rewinding (literally) to tell a story of how these brats arrived at their respective entanglements.
The Rules of Attraction is by turns horrifically misogynistic and just plain stupid. It's not hard to imagine some frothing band of Islamofascists using it as a recruiting tool: one more example of infidel arrogance. That said, there's a few delightful moments like a two-minute hypertour of an ancillary character's semester in Europe. But unfortunately, the departures from traditional narrative structure serve only to obscure the fact that Avary has little to offer but clich and avarice. He has even managed to suck the pleasure from sex, which if not a crime, is enough to make one sentimental for the hedonism of days gone by. My kingdom for a panty raid!