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'Rules of Attraction'

College life's a downer in 'Rules'

Friday, October 11, 2002

By Barbara Vancheri, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Does the WB know what its young stars did last summer?


RATING: R for strong sexual content, drug use, language, violent images

STARRING: James Van Der Beek, Shannyn Sossamon, Jessica Biel

DIRECTOR: Roger Avary



Jessica Biel, who plays the minister's eldest daughter on "7th Heaven," is a coke-snorting, hard-drinking, promiscuous college student in "The Rules of Attraction."

And James Van Der Beek, every teen's dream on "Dawson's Creek," plays a character whose soft edges have been sandpapered off. He lies, sells drugs, masturbates to Internet porn and beds almost anyone he wants, although he spurns the attention of a fellow student named Paul, who nevertheless fantasizes about him.

Welcome to every parent's nightmare: A vision of college that might make you long for the drunken toga parties in "Animal House." This should be every high school or college student's nightmare, too, since there isn't a happy coed among the bunch. And the only parents we see -- played by Faye Dunaway and Swoosie Kurtz -- are downing prescription drugs with a vodka Collins chaser.

"The Rules of Attraction," written and directed by Roger Avary, who co-wrote "Pulp Fiction," is an adaptation of Bret Easton Ellis' 1987 novel, although the specific time period has been eliminated. Told in an elaborate flashback, complete with the occasional "Twin Peaks" style talking-in-reverse scene, it pulses with energy, creativity and music, but the characters are so manipulative, misguided or morally bankrupt that you'll want to slip out of this party early.

The actors, however, are terrific, with Van Der Beek reinventing himself as the sort of guy who would kick Dawson's butt; Shannyn Sossamon ("40 Days and 40 Nights") bringing a delicate vulnerability to the virginal Lauren, a girl who inexplicably pines for an untrustworthy student traveling in Europe; and Ian Somerhalder as Paul, a bisexual with the prettiness of a young Rob Lowe.

College students, in satirical novels, film and even real life, are allowed a measure of self-indulgence, experimentation and the luxury of making mistakes or bad choices, but the nihilistic "Rules" goes a little too far over the line for my tastes and age.

And, in a preview of our Family Film Guide: This is not acceptable for young teens accustomed to seeing Van Der Beek and Biel in their WB roles. A scene where a student slits her wrists and dies in a bloody bath is only one of many reasons why.

Barbara Vancheri can be reached at bvancheri@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1632.

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