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Blue in the Face

Directed by Wayne Wang, Paul Auster. Starring Harvey Keitel, Lou Reed, Michael J. Fox, Roseanne, Mel Gorham, Jim Jarmusch, Lily Tomlin, Giancarlo Esposito. (1995, R, 90 min.)

REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Oct. 27, 1995

Shot in under a week and utilizing much of the cast from his previous film Smoke, this slapdash ensemble piece is a sort of quasi-sequel to that earlier film. It continues, after a fashion, some of the threads begun in Smoke and expands on them with a variety of skits that are loosely held together. Blue In the Face has more in common with an episode of Saturday Night Live than it does with mainstream Hollywood filmmaking. Wang and Auster have freely admitted that they went into Blue In the Face without a conventional shooting script, instead opting to create scenes and situations alongside their players, some of whom acted out simple dialogues, speaking until they were -- that's right -- “blue in the face.” The results are a mixed bag. Jim Jarmusch's elegiac, hilarious performance as a man about to smoke his final cigarette is brilliant, as are the cutaways to longtime New Yorker Lou Reed, who discusses the city with the same type of deadpan certainty you find in his music. Keitel, as the smoke shop proprietor Augie Wren, is likewise excellent as he fends off the salacious advances of Roseanne. Other bits seem to drag: Lily Tomlin goes nowhere as a mangy street person, likewise Fox as a down-on-his-luck yuppie; token bits by Jose Zuniga and Mira Sorvino fall flat and drag the movie down with them. As a slice of Brooklyn summertime life, Blue in the Face never quite hits the highs of Spike Lee's best work. It seems cobbled together and ephemeral, and, of course, it is.

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