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.