Repeat after me: "525,600 minutes, 525,000 moments so dear. 525,600 minutes -- how do you measure, measure a year?" Then repeat it, and repeat it again and, I believe, again. Watch out, I'm complaining already. Yet the first time you hear "Seasons of Love" in this splashy adaptation of the raggedy Broadway hit, it is quite catchy, at least in its melody. But a mistake was made right at that opening point of the film. The song is presented by its eight main characters, all lined up neatly on an empty stage in an empty theater, singing it blandly, till near song's end, when there's a little emoting. I have no idea why the film starts out in such an artificial manner.

As the song says, the story's going to be about a year in the life of these folks, with the action, or lack of it, taking place on the streets and in big old expanses of buildings in New York's East Village in 1989. But upon getting to know them, it seems to me that, with a couple of exceptions, these are people you don't really want to spend even the film's two-hour running time with, never mind a year.

As characters in musicals tend to do, everyone suddenly bursts into the title song, which is either going to involve or repel audiences. It's about being & quot;hungry and frozen, & quot; and wondering & quot;how we gonna pay last year's rent. & quot; And the song seems to be infectious among other denizens of the run-down urban area. They're all out on fire escapes singing it. But soon it's not a song about their problems; it's a declaration: & quot;We're not gonna pay last year's, this year's rent, next year's rent. & quot;

Now, I'm an old hippie, but ... Are we suppose to agree with them? Are they supposed to be some bold rebels with new ideas of societal behavior? What exactly are they rebelling against, and why do they think they're so special that they don't have to pay rent? Alas, I believe the answer is that they're an annoying bunch of whiny slackers.

All I can say is, "Gimme a head with hair!"

At least Hair had a strong message about the futility of war in it (and, mind you, some damn good songs!). The blurred messages in Rent have to do with the evils of money (former friend Bennie has gone to work for a landlord; you can tell he's now a bad guy because he drives a Range Rover); with drug abuse (having never been a junkie, I don't know about the accuracy of the depiction of Mimi, who spends money on her habit before food, heat and rent); and with the horrors of the then-still early AIDS epidemic (but what exactly is the film's stance, other than showing that it exists, that there are support groups and that people are dying in hospitals?).

The act of watching this film makes for a strange emotional road to travel down. Every single character is wildly enthusiastic, usually about the & quot;talent & quot; of each other (but the drama queen Maureen is nothing more than a selfish, overrated performance artist, and the filmmaker Mark turns out to be a hack who simply throws together unedited images).

In a rare instance that has a character performing for the camera rather than for herself or other onscreen characters, exotic dancer Mimi does a number at the Cat Scratch Club, accompanied by some wall-of-guitars anthem rock. But despite her sparking the song with a few Zevon-esque howls, the whole thing comes across as tepid at best.

This isn't true with other songs. Though many of them do tend to sound alike, most of them are sung with passion and a great deal of ability. One clever song and dance sequence -- "Tango: Maureen" -- stands out among the rest, at least until the lyrics call for the rhyming of & quot;pookie & quot; with & quot;spooky. & quot; And an apparent show-stopper turns out to be a song that I wished stopped earlier. The caf & eacute;-set "La Vie Boheme" lasts interminably, then ends, then starts again; it's the formulaic song that won't go away.

I could keep complaining about the bad music here, but there are so many other things that just don't work. All of these poor people seem to dress pretty well, and none of them is very thin, considering how hungry they're supposed to be. Of the multiple relationships that are going on, only the one between the two men, Tom and Angel, has any authenticity and true feeling to it (the one between Roger and Mimi is impossible to fathom).

This is an exercise in endless bombast, with nothing but tragedy waiting at the supposedly upbeat ending. I can't imagine who the filmmakers or the studio think their audience is going to be.

Rent; Directed by Chris Columbus; Starring Rosario Dawson, Taye Diggs, Jesse Martin; Rated PG-13

Buffalo Field Campaign 25th Anniversary Roadshow @ Magic Lantern Theatre

Tue., Oct. 4, 7-8:30 p.m.
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