A dark, occasionally fascinating comedy/drama, "Rules of Attraction" (based on the Bret Easton Ellis novel) is a new effort from Roger Avary (known for co-writing "Pulp Fiction", and for directing "Killing Zoe"). Sometimes style over substance (Avery throws in every visual trick in the book, including scenes rewinding and split-screens), the film's overdone visual style actually adds a great deal of energy to the proceedings, which I'm not sure they'd have otherwise.
Set at the fictional Camden College, the film starts off at an "End of the World" party, where we're introduced to low-level drug dealer Sean Bateman (James Van Der Beek), who is attracted to Lauren (Shannyn Sossamon), who he thinks is sending him secret letters proclaiming her attraction. Victor (Kip Pardue) is Lauren's boyfriend, but he's in Europe. There's also Paul (Ian Somerhalder), who used to date Lauren, but now is interested in Sean. Add to this several more supporting characters, more bouncing around in time and pretty much about everything you'd expect from material by Ellis.
There really isn't a likable character in the bunch - these are all college kids with no direction and a hunger for increasingly dangerous drugs. Yet, Avery manages to keep things watchable with the stylistic choices and keeping things well-balanced between the drama and the occasionally very funny dark comedy. A couple of the visual tricks are real highlights - there's a scene where Lauren and Sean meet that turns from a split-screen into a single shot. There's also a one-minute sequence that edits down Victor's entire several-week European vacation.
On the surface, "Rules" seems like an attempt for a lot of actors to move into edgy material. Van Der Beek, who is probably eager to move away from his "Dawson's Creek" TV fame, actually offers a very good performance here. Playing self-absorbed and smug perfectly, Van Der Beek's portrayal of the character is nicely on the edge of psychotic. Sossamon's clearly the heart of the picture though, as her performance as Lauren - a girl in love with someone who clearly doesn't care about her - is often heartbreaking and clearly, a step above her previous roles. Supporting performances are good, although Biel doesn't get much of a chance to develop her character, nor do a few other members of the cast.
"Rules" isn't always particularly substancial and occasionally feels aimless, but its take on unrequited love remained involving, vivid and energetic in its presentation. Note: This is not the Unrated version of the film, which, according to the director's website (avary.com), includes an extra 22 seconds of trimmed footage. Whether or not an "Unrated" version will be released is unknown at this point, although certainly possible.
VIDEO: Lion's Gate offers "Rules of Attraction" in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. This isn't a presentation without some flaws, but it is a fairly nice-looking transfer of low-budget material. Sharpness and detail are standard - the presentation appears crisp and fairly detailed, although there are some moments of softness on occasion.
As for the flaws, the presentation thankfully doesn't show anything in the way of edge enhancement. However, print flaws did appear in several scenes and a couple of slight traces of compression artifacts were spotted. The print flaws shown weren't anything major, but I did spot a speck here, a mark there and a scratch or two.
The film's natural color palette was fairly well-rendered, with clean and nicely saturated colors.
SOUND: The film's Dolby 2.0 soundtrack is decent, providing an enjoyable score with fair warmth and envelopment. Other than that, this is dialogue-driven fare.
Commentaries: The DVD includes no less than six(!) full-length audio commentaries. Five of these are "revolving door" commentaries that feature different members of the cast and crew coming in at different times throughout the picture. The sixth commentary is from...Carrot Top. Track one features: actors Ian Somerhalder and Russell Sams, production designer Sharon Seymour and adult film star Ron Jeremy; Track two features actors Clifton Collins, Theresa Wayman, Shannyn Sossamon and Kip Pardue; Track three features actors Thomas Ian Nichols and Joel Michaely along with executive producer Jeremiah Samuels and composer Andy Milborn; Track four offers director of photography Robert Brinkman and second unit director Harry Ralston, while the last commentary offers editor Sharon Ritter and actor Eric Szmanda. As much as I'd like to listen to all of these tracks, I don't have twelve hours to devote to "Rules of Attraction".
Also: The 26-minute Sundance Channel "Anatomy of a Scene" feature, which focuses on the split-screen into one scene; the film's theatrical trailer; two promo spots, a book spot and a soundtrack spot.
Final Thoughts: Certainly not a film that's not going to be for everyone, those seeking a dark comedy/drama with a strong visual style might find it an interesting rental. Those who are already fans should consider seeking the DVD out, as it offers a fine presentation and a lot of supplemental material.