By Daniel Wible | November 16, 2003

A man (Spencer Beglarian) on the verge of a nervous breakdown tries to find inner peace in the manic short film “Just Don’t Do It.” Amid the sanity-testing clatter of a clock tick-ticking away and fingertips rattling incessantly across a desk, the film immediately sets the tone from the start. Beglarian’s nameless protagonist wastes no time nervously twitching and raving in voice-over, “Just don’t do it. Don’t even think about it… I’m going stark raving mad.” Yeah, we kind of figured that much. At first, the troubled man tries in vain to find solace in everyday things like dance music, TV (“500 channels and nothing’s on!”), and yoga. When all of these things fail (alas, even yoga), his thoughts turn suicidal. He contemplates ending his life in a variety of, shall we say, interesting ways including death by oven (“takes too long!”), jumping off a four-story building (“not high enough!”), overdosing on drugs, chewing lots and lots of gum(!), and finally, death by really really cold shower. After surviving the wads of Trident and the shower, he decides a nice long run is what he really needs (“Endorphin rush! Natural high!). The exercise, along with some good old-fashioned oral hygiene, miraculously does the trick. Our troubled protagonist feels whole and renewed and in a state of utter bliss, until he realizes, in a moment of pure horror, that he is smoking a cigarette. And finally we get it: our friend is a smoker and by film’s end, he is right back where he was in the beginning. Like so many addicts, he wants to quit, but it just won’t take.
Spencer Beglarian, who also wrote the script, gives an appropriately caffeinated performance in the lead role. That’s important too, since “Just Don’t Do It” is virtually a one-man show. Beglarian and director Brian To, who adds the filmic spice, mostly succeed in condensing Polanski’s theme-of-choice (the isolated protagonist slowly losing touch with the real world and his/her sanity) into a mere 7 minutes of screen time. To’s “mies insane”, if you’ll forgive the really bad play on words, adds a visual dimension to the seriously strung out proceedings. He skillfully employs some low-tech, though effective, digital effects to externalize Beglarian’s inner chaos. Beglarian is a jittery mess as the image twists and struggles to focus all around him. Yet what could have been a really effective and darkly comic study of madness and addiction gets somewhat tainted by the lingering feeling of just having watched an extended anti-smoking ad. As a non-smoker, I whole-heartedly agree with the notion that smoking is a disgusting habit and “Just Don’t Do It” certainly plays like a clever bit of propaganda. But unfortunately, in this current revolution of healthy living, movie smoking has taken a hit almost as bad as real smoking has. Lung cancer be damned, smoking in movies is eternally sexy and cool. I say: Keep the commercials on TV, long may the cinematic puffers live!

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