Set on the campus of the fictitious liberal arts school Camden College, "Rules" opens with the graphic and disturbing deflowering of Lauren ("40 Days and 40 Nights'" Shannyn Sossamon). With the line, "I always knew it was going to be like this," the film is thrown into reverse, revealing not only how she ended up in that position that night, but the months leading up to it and how her interactions with Sean (James Van Der Beek of TV's "Dawson's Creek"), Paul ("Life As a House's" Ian Somerhalder) and her promiscuous roommate Lara (Jessica Biel of TV's "7th Heaven") lead to her demise.
Long story short, Lauren is saving herself for Victor ("Driven's" Kip Pardue), who is traipsing around Europe--a montage on speed that is among the movie's more brilliantly conceived sequences. Meanwhile, Sean is interested in her because he believes she is his secret admirer who has been sending him glittery letters on purple stationery--but he has an interesting way of expressing himself.
What is intriguing about "Rules" is not only its shocking nature--and it is shocking, though not as shocking as it might have been before an extensive, careful editing process in order to downgrade its original NC-17 rating to an R--but the actors cast in these scandalous roles. Van Der Beek and Biel here work very hard to shed the goody-two-shoes characters on "Dawson's Creek" and "7th Heaven" that have heretofore defined them. Van Der Beek, in particular, possesses a glowering demeanor that is frightening--one feels real disgust for this character. It is Sossamon, perhaps because of the likability of her character, who comes off the best--she is an organic, instinctual performer.
There is also an attempt here at larger themes, such as whether one can ever really know another person, that attempt to lend credibility to the picture. The pursuit is a noble one, but one that ultimately has to work too hard to get the audience's attention among the cinematic trickery and gratuitous sex, drugs and violence--elements that nonetheless can be entertaining in and of themselves. Starring James Van Der Beek, Ian Somerhalder, Shannyn Sossamon, Jessica Biel and Kip Pardue. Directed and written by Roger Avary. Produced by Greg Shaprio. A Lions Gate release. Drama. Rated R for strong sexual content, drug use, language and violent images. Running time: 110 min