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By Tim Merrill | January 21, 2002

Now this is the sort of thing that makes people stay away from foreign films. “Smokers Only,” written and directed by Veronica Chen, is everything you don’t want in a movie. The best that can be said about it is that only 87 minutes after it starts, it ends.
The film opens on a girl in Buenos Aires named Reni (Cecilia Bengolea) undressing, taking a bath, thinking. Nothing wrong with that. Then she somehow cuts her wrist, letting the blood flow and letting her mind wander. To the future, to the past? Who knows? But at some point, she finds herself watching a male hustler, Andrés (Leonardo Brezicki), plying his trade among the ATMs at the local bank. He winds up with her bank card in his pants. It’s love at first sight. In unrelated news, Reni happens to be a really lousy P.J. Harvey-style torch singer, but her band – acting with uncommon intelligence – is about to kick her out. This way, Reni can end up as a hooker, just to be alongside Andrés, her new world-class winner of a boyfriend.
“Smokers Only” has been aimless and unfocused up to this point, much like its skanky protagonists. But at least one is still curious about where it may be headed. Once it’s past the half-hour mark and nothing of any consequence has occurred, however, and you realize that these two deeply uninteresting characters are unlikely to be changed by their profoundly uninvolving experiences, it’s all over but the snoring. We’re left watching two pretty – make that pretty vacant – streetwalking urchins doing what streetwalking urchins do best, which is…walk the streets. It’s like, Oh the Humanity – except that this humanity looks hot in swimsuits! If Veronica Chen aspires to be the female Larry Clark, she’s well on her way.
The clanging, discordant music might keep you awake for a while, but you’ll never make it to the end “to see how it all turns out.” So here goes: Reni leaves Buenos Aires, but Andrés stays behind. Hope that didn’t ruin it for anyone.
“Smokers Only” is humorless, self-conscious art drivel, made without a glimmer of intelligence or invention. The worst that can be said about it is that it commits the twin cardinal sins of filmmaking: it is pretentious, and it is boring. Enough said?

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