The Rules of Attraction
starring James Van Der Beek and Shannyn Sossamon
3 stars

Start with The Rules of Attraction, a novel by Brett Easton Ellis, known for spooking the straights with American Psycho. Hand the adaptation over to Roger Avary, a longtime pal of Quentin Tarantino's and director of bank-robbery-goes-bloodily-awry flick Killing Zoe. Cast the film with young actors who aren't afraid to look like they've been doing heroin all night. 

Put it all together, and it's safe to say that The Rules of Attraction ain't gonna be about the redemptive power of love.

No, Nihilism U might be a better title, a coke-snorting, sex-sullying, dignity-stripping semester of modern college life, all darkened up and post-moderned right to your door.

The opening sequence introduces us to our three anti-heroes in the throes of a drunken, dazed party. James Van Der Beek of Dawson's Creek is Sean, a self-described "emotional vampire"; Shannyn Sossamon from A Knight's Tale is Lauren, a slender virginal university chick; and a guy named Ian Somerhalder is Paul, a swimmer-type with a big boner for Sean. The music is harsh, clanging, and the scene plays forward to the climax of a particularly grim sexual encounter for Lauren --and then it freezes, and rewinds, and the whole rest of the movie swings around in an arc to return to that first scene.

It's a little love triangle, where Paul likes Sean and Sean likes Lauren, and it could almost be sweet if it wasn't for the endless scenes of dazed sexual encounters, emotional coldness and nosefull after bloody joyless nosefull of coke.

Yep, university students do a lot of coke in The Rules of Attraction, and it shows, bagging their eyes, draining their skin. They also fuck a lot, the kind of sex that makes you feel cheap and worthless after. Maybe there's a tentative grope for a connection here or there, but nasty or clueless assholery stamps it flat every time. Whether it's Lauren flipping through medical textbooks of worst-case STDs or Eric Stoltz as a wankery young prof looking for hummers, the film is full of grim details that sell, sell, sell the idea that life is a fucking joke.

It's tough to know what to say about the movie; it comes off as kind of a blur of bad behavior. There's endless partying and drinking and fucking, but it's dour, ugly.  It's not pretty, but at the same time you've got to give Avary credit for believing in his world and getting the actors to go along with it. Van Der Beek and Sossamon don't look at all like Hollywood pretty people, and while pushing coke and getting vomited on aren't part of everybody's university experience, it's pretty easy to believe them as college kids, though of course we never see them in any classes.

Nihilism and propulsive drinking can only go so far, though, and without nihilism's close partner violence, the movie starts to drag as it pulls into the last quarter.  It's still harsh and real, with lines like "Nobody knows anybody else, ever," and "I only did it with her because I'm in love with you," but the humorlessness takes its toll. Without the droll wit of, say, the movie version of American Psycho, The Rules of Attraction is likely to leave the audience a little sick and dazed, like crawling out from under a three-day meth bender.