Directed by Roger Avary, starring James Van Der Beek, Ian Somerhalder, Shannyn Sossamon, Jessica Biel, Kip Pardue, Clifton Collins, Eric Stoltz, Fred Savage.

James Van Der Beek may be best known for his role as the sensitive and introspective Dawson Leery on the long-running TV series 'Dawson's Creek' but any young fan who wanders in to 'Rules of Attraction' hoping for more of the same is in for a big shock. Roger Avary's latest film, based on the novel by Brett Easton Ellis, is a rollercoaster of drunken and drug addled debauchery set in the gracious surroundings of a New England university.

We're introduced to the three central characters at one of Camden College's interminable parties: Sean (a preconception-shattering Van Der Beek), the younger brother of American Psycho's Patrick Bateman, a drug-dealer, "emotional vampire" and occasional college student; the thoughtful, abstracted, coke-sniffing Lauren (Sossamon) skateboarding through the moral morass of college life; and Paul (Somerhalder), an intense and bisexual libertine with a talent for propositioning the wrong person.

After a choppy prologue in which the film is rewound until we have seen the party from the points of view of Sean, Lauren and Paul, 'Rules of Attraction' spools backwards to the beginning of the story before settling down, temporarily, into a more straightforward narrative. To sum up, Paul wants Sean, Sean wants Lauren and Lauren wants fellow student Victor (Pardue) but he's out of reach, travelling Europe.

They're surrounded by an assortment of friends, faculty members and family, all with their own wants, needs and agendas. Lauren's roommate Lara (Biel) makes the most of the Dress to Get Screwed party; Eric Stoltz's sleazy lecturer gives extracurricular classes to improve student's grade point averages - but just for the attractive girls; and there's a cringe-worthy lunch scene where the mothers are as high on cocktails and prescription drugs as their sons are on coke.

Like teen sex comedies such as 'American Pie', 'Rules of Attraction' has a great looking cast, mainly plucked from TV shows - Van Der Beek, Jessica Biel from squeaky-clean '7th Heaven' and a cameo from babyfaced Fred Savage ('The Wonder Years') as a heroin addict - but Roger Avery's treatment of the subject matter is cruel, unsympathetic, cynical and darkly humorous. He delights in cinematic and camera trickery - varying points of view, voice-overs, reverse motion - and there's a particularly beautiful scene when Lauren and Sean meet, a split-screen becoming a single shot.

Although occasionally overdone, Avary's visual flair gives the film a lot of its energy - note the video diary of Victor's hedonistic European trip, weeks of travelling crammed into a 60-second piece. A well-chosen soundtrack compliments the action on screen, whether it's Sean masturbating to Donovan's Colours ("In the morning, when we rise/That's the time...") or the heartbreak of Harry Nilsson's 'Without You' explaining the suicide of a lovelorn girl: "I can't live if living is without you/ I can't give, I can't give any more".

'Rules of Attraction' is bleak, nihilistic, profoundly funny and has the added bonus of a great cameo from Faye Dunaway. As Sean would say, "rock and roll".

Caroline Hennessy