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Smack Off 

Heath Ledger's bod can't save this by-the-numbers drug flick.

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Heath Ledger and Abbie Cornish play unbelievably gorgeous heroin junkies in Candy, a don't-try-this-at-home melodrama adapted from Australian author Luke Davies' aptly billed "novel of love and addiction."

Essentially it's Requiem for a Dream with a lot less of that overrated indie's shooting-gallery pizzazz, although director Neil Armfield does put his smacked-out couple on one of those centrifugally forceful amusement-park rides in the very first scene in order to suggest that their young lives are, y'know, spinning out of control.

Candy's whirlwind-carnival metaphor is maybe not quite as tiresome as it sounds. Dizziness, even to the point of nausea, is both what we crave from the drug movie and what we dread in it: Like gangster movies, drug movies tempt us with red-hot outlaws, knowing that we know they're bad, and they disturb us with a violent comeuppance that's inevitable and well deserved. Candy contrives to twist that proven formula somewhat, but it's still a movie in which hell clearly awaits our sexy antiheroes -- even more clearly in this case, given that the first two of the film's three acts are called, uh, "Heaven" and "Earth."

Suburban Sydney addicts Candy (Cornish) and Dan (Ledger) step off the merry-go-round and get spun at home: She fixes by needle for the first time while he sits nervously at the kitchen table. Cornish, Kidmanesque in her elusive, look-but-don't-touch allure, may have the title role here, but Ledger, long-haired and so soft-looking you'd think he was being shot out of focus, is the movie's real eye candy. Armfield's ample theater background may help explain his facility in staging an early sex scene so that Ledger's nude bod can be appreciated from every angle . . . er, sorry, almost every angle. But any director would have to be stupid not to take full advantage of Ledger, the rare young movie actor who's willing and able to objectify himself in sexual terms and make it read as the character's vulnerability more than the performer's.

No wonder Candy's trick-turning for cash is presented as a given -- as what women junkies always do in order to subsidize their dark habits -- while Dan gets to deliberate over whether to prostitute himself. Ultimately, some man's lack of nerve -- the novelist's, the director's, or the character's -- pushes Dan into the altogether safer realm of wallet-snatching.

En route to "Hell," the film manages some faintly amusing moments. And even in "Earth," where the honeymoon is over and the strung-out missus complains from across the living room about her hubby's Bic scratching the crossword puzzle, Armfield's candy-colored sets keep things on the implausibly cheery side of surreal.

Or so they do until the requisite withdrawal scene, which uses nothing more than a room-sized mattress and a pathetically old TV set as props, the quivering junkies left to their own devices. Any drug movie's effectiveness can be measured by the strength of its detox, and Candy doesn't sweeten the cold turkey. It's a downward spiral from here, in more ways than one.

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More by Rob Nelson

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