James and the giant cool

By Gus Bode

We’ve always known that the movies make us cooler.

It’s the undeniable rule of American life:Sure, you might learn a few rules for being slick and sly on the playground, but the only way you’ll ever be truly cool is by going to the theater and watching Brad Pitt smoke cigarettes and beat up on middle-aged men or watching high school students do drugs and throw up on each other. This is why so many people smoke in this country; we are concerned about cancer, but if Brad Pitt can smoke and still have pecs the size of Volvos, it must be cool.

And thus, so are we.

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But a problem surfaces:Hollywood is now too aware of its coolness factor. It markets it. It sells it.

It believes that anything with exploding skyscrapers, drug dealers and Jennifer Love Hewitt is bound to fit into the cool market, and as a result, they sell us uncool.

Uncool is the illusion of cool, and even if Hollywood can’t create something truly cool, it can throw in enough tricks to make us think that it’s cool.

Current case in point:”The Rules of Attraction,” a new movie starring James Van Der Beek, that isolated kid off of “Dawson’s Creek,” that is almost a constant exercise in cool. It’s full of college-aged kids doing drugs and drinking. Stripping down and having sex. Going to parties, cheating on each other and being completely apathetic and immoral.

And, if all of these cool factors aren’t quite enough, the film also has enough cool camera tricks to induce a seizure; watching everything go split-screen, then forward, then backward, then bouncing off the theater wall and landing somewhere near the concession stand is preternaturally cool. Kind of like riding an unfinished roller coaster operated by a scab who just drank a fifth of tequila.

Unfortunately, the movie is an unfinished roller coaster, but it hides itself cleverly behind a veil of giant coolness. James plays Sean Bateman, a drug dealer at an upper-crust college, living in a world of sin and apathy. Sean has a thing for the virginal Lauren (Shannyn Sossamon), with whom he might be in love, and their triangle is completed by Paul, who believes he is in love with Sean.

Don’t get me wrong; it would be impossible to call this a bad film. To the contrary, there will be a day 15 years from now when cinema professors and film critics around the world will ante up and say this is the best thing since sliced bread, a true visual representation of the times. Perhaps they’d be right. But “The Rules of Attraction” is so amoral and disgusting that it’s like getting caught looking at a dirty magazine; it may be the most overtly nihilistic film of the past several years.

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It has no point. None at all. Yet it basks in its pseudo-coolness, and we can’t help but be sucked in by it.

Counter this with the uncoolness of “Knockaround Guys,”a movie that would like so badly to be cool like “Reservoir Dogs” but ends up being cool like a decent TV movie. Starring the likes of Barry Pepper, Vin Diesel, Seth Green and John Malkovich, “Knockaround Guys” seems like it would be sharp. While it spins a decent yarn about second-generation mobsters trying to get their misplaced money out of a redneck town governed by a corrupt sheriff, it never really does anything. Nobody does anything but talk.

This would be all right, but nobody pays five dollars to see Vin Diesel do anything other than hijack tanks and flex his muscles. Talking is out of the question. And as for the rest of the cast, they all perform well – Vin included – but they seem to be under a collective delusion that they are actually making a good movie. Malkovich, the master of the cast, seems to be the only one who isn’t taking this as a life-affirming role; at times, while watching him chew through the scenery like a starving dinosaur at a buffet, I was inclined to think he only took this role because he lost a bet.

And he’s not the only one who lost out. While his movie tries desperately to reach for cool, it has yet to realize you can’t fake these kinds of things.

Perhaps some, such as “The Rules of Attractions,” can give it a good shot, but they’re still not fooling anyone.

As desensitized movie-goers, we know cool when we see it.

It’s not here in either of these.

And if anyone wants to explore this further, perhaps we can talk it over with an endlessly cool cigarette.

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