Dec 15, 2004 at 12:00 am

Okay. You’ve seen this movie way too many times. You saw it when it was called Pulp Fiction. You loved it when it was Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. You ate it up when it was Snatch. You know: the caper-gone-terribly wrong movie with lots of eye-popping cinematic gimmicks like freeze frame, fast zooms and graphics popping up to help you focus on this detail or that. And coincidences on top of coincidences on top of a heaping bowl of deadly mistakes and deadly mix-ups. And a humor so black and bloody that it spills off the screen like a cinematic mudslide. Yeah, the formula is now set in stone, thanks to guys like Tarantino and that dude that married Madonna. But like any tried and true genre, it escapes tedium if the story is just fresh and original enough to transcend the traps offered by said genre.

Mexican director Hugo Rodriguez does a fine job of escaping those traps and offers a passably entertaining trifle with his take on the punishments meted out to stupid, greedy folks who bite off a little more than they can chew. The theme of jonesin’ for what you can’t have (as not so subtly expressed in the title) with constant references to cigarettes — those smoked and those waiting to be smoked — is an effective metaphor for the desperation, madness and indifference to well-being that most of the characters exhibit in their frenzied scramble for the “big score.”

Nicotina is about a computer geek, Lolo (Y Tu Mama También’s Diego Luna), who’s employed by two small-time hoods, Nene (Lucas Crespi) and Tomson (Jesus Ochoa). When not snooping on his beautiful neighbor Andrea (Marta Belaustegui), Lolo is determined to steal secret codes that will unlock some Swiss bank accounts; Nene and Tomson will then trade the codes for some diamonds from a couple of other hoods. The other hoods are Russians, one with a Tetris addiction, the other a huge beast with a fixation on a small doll he carries around with him. The trade-off goes terribly awry, and all four hoods, with Lolo accidentally and reluctantly in tow, start the inevitable hunt for one another and the treasure. Nene and Tomson wind up at a drugstore and the Russian giant at a barbershop, while Lolo dances around the periphery like the skittish nerd he is. It’s in these “hideouts” that the bulk of the action takes place, with the predictable bloodbath to follow.

Nicotina, although too slow and derivative to truly compete with its more hallowed brethren, still packs a pretty good wallop. Without the self-conscious attention to all things “cigarette,” it would have had time to complicate things a little more, bleed a little more and make us laugh a little more.


In Spanish with English subtitles. Showing at the Maple Art Theatre (4135 W. Maple, W of Telegraph). Call 248-542-0180.

Dan DeMaggio writes about film for Metro Times. E-mail [email protected].