Brett Easton Ellis' novels aren't always film friendly. Anyone who has read his work knows that what works for him on the printed page doesn't always translate to live action on the big screen so well, but director Roger Avary (he of Pulp Fiction fame) gets points for trying with his adaptation of Ellis' The Rules Of Attraction.
Like much of Ellis' work, the story here revolves around a bunch of disenfranchised youth and the varying degrees of worldly trouble that they find themselves in - and in this case, it all happens around a school called Camden College. Our central character is a sexist stoner named Sean Bateman (James Van Der Beek) who, aside from being the younger brother of one Patrick Bateman, spends his days smoking up and mistreating women. He's not a particularly likeable guy but this starts to change when he meets Lauren (Shannyn Sossamon) and falls fairly hard for her. Lauren is a bit of a mess herself, however, as she's still got a serious thing for her ex-boyfriend, Victor (Kip Pardue), who left her and is, to the best of her knowledge, hanging out somewhere in Europe doing his own thing. She's prone to making horrible decisions when it comes to the opposite sex and winds up having a series of misguided flings and one night stands and winds up getting used and abused like you wouldn't believe. Mixing it up with the rest of the cats is Paul (Ian Somerhalder), a young gay man who winds up crushing pretty hard on Sean, who much to Paul's dismay, isn't gay. Or at least he doesn't think he is, but then, didn't Paul at one point sleep with Lauren? Their lives interconnect and their mistakes all have consequences and before it's all said and done, we learn that none of them are quite what they seem.
A film dealing with immorality and filled with immoral characters, The Rules Of Attraction is fairly depraved stuff but it's not without merit or humor. Yes, it's true that often times we're laughing at the characters as opposed to with them, Ellis' satirical black humor is still rampant in the script and Avary deserves credit for not watering down the source material to pander to a mainstream audience. This is a strange movie, and often times an uncomfortable one, but there are moments where you'll find yourself wondering if the picture doesn't lose its point. Avary's direction is slick and stylish and his control of the film's pacing is admirable. He manages to get very strong performances out of not just his main players but the supporting cast as well (look for the likes of Jessica Biel, Kate Bosworth, Clifton Collins Jr. and even Faye Dunaway in the film). Clever use of split screen and jumping back and forth through time help to hold our attention and ensure that the film is visually interesting, but when we forgo the style and come back to the substance we're left with what doesn't amount to a whole lot more than just a lot of college kids having sex and doing drugs because they don't seem to quite know what else to do with themselves.
There are moments where the story tries to dig deeper into the different psyches of the core characters, to get the audience to think along with the character about what they really want out of relationships, romantic or otherwise, but the film never quite gets its claws into us deeply enough to completely succeed. The emotional core of the film is slim at best, and the picture suffers for it.
That said, if you're a fan of Ellis' work, this is still a movie worth seeing. James Van Der Beek, playing a character about as far removed from Dawson as you can get, is very good in the part and plays a far better bastard than anyone probably ever expected from him. If the movie doesn't seem to really have much to say, at least those who relay its vacant message do so with admirable skill. This film is nothing like the sex comedy that it was originally marketed as, it's fairly dark stuff that deals with some fairly dramatic issues, so it's very likely that a lot of people were put off by its dark streak and pitch black humor, but that still doesn't give us much reason to connect with its characters. This might be how it is on a college campus and in many ways the film is probably very realistic - so it has that going for it, but that doesn't excuse its flaws. This is still a picture worth seeing, particularly for those who appreciate the source material and who don't need to 'like' the characters in a movie. By its very nature it isn't a picture that the masses are necessarily going to appreciate, not that that's a bad thing, but there's reason to understand why some would find the film's darkness unappealing.
The Rules Of Attraction is presented in a good AVC encoded 1.78.1 1080p high definition widescreen transfer that boasts strong colors and good black levels. There are certain shots in the film where the contrast has been boosted to the point where the picture becomes very oversaturated but this was intentional, the film has always looked this way. Detail isn't the best you'll ever see on Blu-ray but it's strong enough that you'll definitely notice an upgrade from the previous DVD release. Skin tones look good and quite natural and there aren't any problems with compression artifacts even if some of the darker scenes look just a bit murky. If the image quality isn't perfect, it's still pretty damn good.
The English language DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio mix on this Blu-ray is pretty solid. Bass response is tight and bouncy enough to propel the soundtrack when the movie calls for it but not at the cost of burying the dialogue. The performers are always easy to understand and the levels well balanced throughout. There are no problems with hiss nor are there any problems with distortion or level spiking. Surround activity isn't the best, as the film is fairly dialogue-centric and most of that dialogue comes from the front of the mix leaving the rears with little to do at times, but the group scenes demonstrate some nice directional effects here and there. All in all, the movie sounds pretty good. Optional subtitles are offered up in English and Spanish and English closed captioning is also provided.
This disc contains six commentary track. Seriously, there are six commentary tracks here and they're laid out as so:
Track one features production designer Sharon Seymour, actors Ian Somerhalder and Russell Sams, and the mighty Ron Jeremy (he's in the film for a minute or two so his presence makes sense). Ron's a funny guy and his sense of humor is welcome here while Seymour provides some detail and insight into what she did to help the film find the right look. Somerhalder and Sams discuss their characters and co-stars and this is a fairly informative track. Track two features actors Shannyn Sossamon, Kip Pardue, Clifton Collins and Theresa Wayman. Again, this is a lively chat that's heavy on the characters and the script. Track three features executive producer Jeremiah Samuels, the film's composer Andy Milborn, and actors Thomas Ian Nichols and Joel Michaely and it makes for a well rounded talk about the film, how the project came to be and how various people wound up on board. Track four features DP Robert Brinkman and second unit director Harry Ralston and it's not surprisingly quite a bit more technical than the other ones and it discusses camera work and cinematography. Track five features editor Sharon Ritter and actor Eric Szmanda and through listening to it we learn about the film's rhythm and what it is like cutting a movie for Roger Avary, though by this point you're going to be burnt out on commentaries regardless. Track six features.... Carrot Top. Yep, really, there's a commentary from Carrot Top here. How much you get out of this last track will depend entirely on how funny you think he is. Those of us who can't stand him, however, will add this track to their list of reasons why. All of the tracks, except for the last one, are done 'revolving door' style so people pop in and out as the scene specific discussion requires and for the most part they all seem to have been recorded separately and edited together.
Outside of the half a dozen commentary tracks, the disc also includes the film's original theatrical trailer, menus and chapter stops.
The Rules Of Attraction is an interesting adaptation of some odd source material that worsk, despite its flaws, thanks to some great acting and clever directing choices. It's certainly not a film for all tastes so a rental is probably in order if you haven't seen it before, but if you're already a fans, Lionsgate's Blu-ray looks and sounds a fair bit better than the DVD ever did and the commentary tracks will keep you busier than you'll ever want them to. Consider that a recommendation for established fans, a solid rental for anyone not already in that camp.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.