It's as tempting as a Slurpee with a side of Pop Rocks to assume "Reality Bites" is just capitalizing on the demographic tagged "Generation X" and the twentysomethings.
These are the kids who grew up watching the neatly resolved storylines of ''The Brady Bunch" only to see real-life Brady dad Robert Reed die from AIDS; the generation that watched rock 'n' roll television evolve from something banal and fluffy ("American Bandstand") into something powerful and fluffy (MTV).
"Reality Bites" centers on a telegenic circle of young people led by Lelaina Pierce (Winona Ryder), a college valedictorian who receives a gas card and a used BMW as a graduation present from her parents. She lives with longtime pal Vickie Miner (Janeane Garofalo), a '70s-obsessed assistant manager at the Gap. They take in perennial slacker/guitarist Troy Dyer (Ethan Hawke, last seen noshing on co-stars in "Alive!"), and the sparks fly like the opening credits to "Love American Style."
This band of sound-bite-bloated folks addresses the irony of being in their 20s, supposedly a time of discovering the joys of independence, when they can't even afford health care. They've never had sex with anyone they've been in love with. Even a simple task like ordering Domino's pizza has become a troubling experience because they've heard that the company gives money to Operation Rescue.
Directed by Ben Stiller (who also plays yuppie video executive Michael Grates), "Reality Bites" could easily stumble on so many Gary Coleman references and "Grammar Rock" ditties. The movie is laden with touchstones of the generation, including appearances by singer Evan Dando of The Lemonheads and dimpled MTV veejay Karen "Duff" Duffy.
Yet the smart script by 23-year-old newcomer Helen Childress doesn't lose sight of the characters and the issues that affect them and other young adults. A slew of inadequacies, a general uncertainty about the future and the possibility of a comeback by The Knack is more than enough to cause that unsightly cynicism buildup.
But the snideness in "Reality Bites" is not without humor. And underneath it all are the same hopes and worries of any generation. It's just that the soundtrack is only available on K-Tel.
REALITY BITES * * * 1/2
Produced by Danny DeVito and Michael Shamberg, directed by Ben Stiller, music by Karl Wallinger, The Juliana Hatfield 3, Dinosaur Jr., The Knack, written by Helen Childress, distributed by Universal Pictures.
Running Time: 99 minutes
Lelaina Pierce - Winona Ryder
Troy Dyer - Ethan Hawke
Vickie Miner - Janeane Garofalo
Sammy Gray - Steve Zahn
Michael Grates - Ben Stiller
Charlane McGregor - Swoozie Kurtz
Tom Pierce - Joe Don Baker
Grant Gubler - John Mahoney
Parents Guide: PG-13
Showing at: Area theaters.