James Van Der Beek, Clifton Collins Jr., ...
Credit: The Rules of Attraction: Lynn Alston

The privileged cocoon of college becomes a kind of Boschian hell in writer/director Roger Avary’s adaptation of Bret Easton Ellis’ 1987 novel ”The Rules of Attraction,” where the search for one’s soul becomes intertwined with sex, drugs, and violence, and even teen idols learn to growl like Cujo.

James Van Der Beek says bye-bye to Dawson’s dreaminess to play Sean, a coke-dealing, thrill-seeking loner who falls for the innocent Lauren (”A Knight’s Tale”’s Shannyn Sossamon), who in turn pines for the unworthy Victor (”Remember the Titans”’ Kip Pardue). With scenes that call for Van Der Beek to embrace the dark side, the project had an initial bumpy ride with the WB star attached. ”The movie fell apart twice because no one wanted me to play him,” says the actor.

By the time the movie got greenlit, ”Dawson’s Creek” was back in production, leaving Van Der Beek to commute between the series’ Wilmington, N.C., set and ”Rules” in L.A. ”It was in the middle of when Dawson’s father died, so I was going back to do crying scenes,” says Van Der Beek, whose part in ”Rules” calls for less sentimental fare — masturbation, attempted suicide, and (egad!) nose picking. Says Van Der Beek of Sean, ”As far as his being likable, I wasn’t concerned, because I don’t think he is. I can’t play someone who is completely unredeemable.” Not our Dawson.

THE LOWDOWN Van Der Beek was cut out of one dark college movie, Todd Solondz’s ”Storytelling,” which was meant to reposition his career. This one just might do the trick.

The Rules of Attraction
  • Movie
  • 110 minutes