on August 20, 2004 by Annlee Ellingson
Borrowing heavily from "Pulp Fiction," "Nicotina," like so many knockoffs of that seminal picture, is amusingly diverting at the time of viewing but ultimately as transitory as a wisp of cigarette smoke. Here Lolo (Diego Luna, who, like Gael Garcia Bernal, has enjoyed heartthrob status since his breakout role in "Y tu mama tambien") is a twitchy computer hacker embroiled in a scheme to exchange encryption-busted access to Swiss bank accounts for a pouch full of diamonds. But, on the night the deal is set to go down in Mexico City, his extracurricular activities--spying on his beautiful cellist neighbor--spin out of control as she discovers the tap on her phone, the video cameras in her apartment and the library of recordings of her he's made on disk. In the melee that follows, Lolo grabs the wrong file for his meeting with a Russian mobster, setting off a chain of escalating violence that eventually ensnares a barber and his shrewish old lady and a pharmacist and his fed-up wife.

Argentinian helmer Hugo Rodriguez, a veteran of the Mexican film industry who has worked as an assistant to "Y tu mama tambien's" Alfonso Cuaron, infuses Martin Salinas' script with split screens, rectangular inserts and transitional sound effects for a visual energy that matches its unfolding-in-real-time pace. Which isn't to say it's manic; rather, it allows for comedic and sexually-charged moments to unfold quite naturally.

Meanwhile, the film's central metaphor, which originated as a nod to the Royale-with-cheese patter in "Pulp Fiction," manifests throughout the film, from Lolo's perpetual inability to light the cigarette dangling from his lips to the pharmacist's neurosis caused by trying to drop the habit to a couple of Vincent Vega/Jules Winnfield-esque killers discussing whether it's worth quitting smoking to prevent cancer when you could be struck and killed by a truck tomorrow. Tangentially, then, "Nicotina," which was the highest-grossing film south of the border last year and garnered six of Mexico's top film prizes, also plays into the film's other themes of causality vs. fate. Unfortunately, the metaphor is superficial, a gimmick, and leaves little more substantial than ash behind. Starring Diego Luna, Marta Belaustegi, Lucas Crespi and Jesus Ochoa. Directed by Hugo Rodriguez. Written by Martin Salinas. Produced by Laura Imperiale and Martha Sosa. Thriller. Spanish-language; subtitled. An Arenas release. Rated R for violence and language. Running time: 93 min.

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