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Predictably Ordinary 

Enjoyable but forgettable, 'Nicotina' is like a Mexican version of 'Pulp Fiction'

There's really nothing wrong with Nicotina. If I was a doctor, and Nicotina came into my office, I'd tell it not to worry, that it's perfectly normal and to just go home and enjoy life. But I wouldn't call any other doctors up and say, "Hey, you've got to see Nicotina; it's an amazing example of health and wellness."

That's because Nicotina offers nothing particularly out of the ordinary. It's like that cute girl you did in college and then you can't remember her name later when she sees you at the coffee shop and you feel bad, but not too bad, because you're with somebody else whose name you'll probably forget.

Which makes Nicotina a little hard to review, because I can only say so many polite things to a movie the morning after seeing it without sounding like a rerun of something I said to some other movie. So in this case, I just downloaded Roger Ebert's review, and am submitting that for your approval.

OK, not really. Basically--and I do mean "basically"--Nicotina is a noir thriller. Lolo, played by the irrepressibly cute Diego Luna, is a nerdy computer hacker who, like the U.S. government, expresses his love for his neighbor by installing lots of spy cameras in her apartment and watching her take a shower. (Ooh, Canada, bend over and pick up the soap!) Meanwhile, his friend Nene is a bit short on cash, and asks Lolo if he wouldn't mind getting a lot of passwords for some Swiss banks.

Lolo, ever the obliging guy, goes ahead and does this, and then puts the data on a disc which he stacks on top of lots of other discs full of photos of his naked neighbor. I wonder if, when Nene tries to sell the disk to the Russian Mafiosi, it will be the wrong disc, and a lot of shooting will ensue?

While pretty much any movie-goer worth his or her salt can see this plot "twist" coming from outer space, it nonetheless kicks the movie into gear, and loads of obvious and pretty-much standard but nonetheless well-paced fun begins.

Is this a crime? Surely, audiences love nothing more than obvious and pretty-much standard but nonetheless well-paced fun; otherwise, the American movie business would cease to exist.

Nicotina, however, is not part of the American movie business. Well, at least not part of the United States of America's movie business, as it was made in Mexico. But it really shows the spread of American (i.e. Sub-Canadian, Supra-Mexican, North American) culture to our neighboring states. If you've seen Pulp Fiction, for example, Nicotina may well give you a strange sense of déjà vu.

But in spite of its daring refusal of originality, Nicotina is a pretty good movie, as long as you can suspend, well, not disbelief so much as the desire to see something you haven't already seen before.

Director Hugo Rodriguez's one big trick is that he frequently selects some small on-screen object and outlines it with a box so that one's eye is drawn toward it. This actually works pretty well, though it's a bit jarring to see something in Nicotina that wasn't purely swiped from some other film.

Rodriguez's greatest talent, though, is speed. Everything moves along at a good clip, and the film avoids the hubris of auteurism by clocking in at a brisk 93 minutes, thus demonstrating the biblical axiom, "If you don't have anything new to say, don't take all day saying it." (I believe that's in the Book of Evans, in the great Sermon on the Cimino.)

The other thing Rodriguez does right is to work in four different plot threads without being confusing. While, obviously, this is homage to Pulp Fiction, Rodriguez avoids the pitfalls that a lot of other Quentin Tarantino imitators have fallen into by keeping each story tight and tightly tied to the others. At no point, for example, do you have to watch lengthy and non-integral scenes of some socialite digging up floorboards in order to find her lost puppy.

Instead, each story is essential to the overall whole. On the other hand, this makes the plot a lot more predictable. Just take a broke barber and his scheming wife, a missing load of diamonds, four gangsters on the run, a pharmacist and her annoying husband, and stir them up until the obvious combinations fall out. Or don't: Writer Martin Salinas has already done so! Nicotina is sort of like one of those boxed cake mixes that require you to add nothing.

Which maybe is the biggest mark of its American (you know, our "American") influence: It's completely non-challenging. Still, like a perfect one-night stand, while it offers little beyond a 90-minute reprieve from boredom, it asks for nothing in return. So, if you've got 90 minutes you want to enjoy but not necessarily remember, Nicotina might just be your safest non-sexual way to spend them.

Nicotina
Rated NR

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