1998, PG-13, 76 min. Directed by Bennett Miller.
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Nov. 27, 1998
From atop his perch on the upper deck of New York City's Gray Line tour buses, Timothy “Speed” Levitch sees it all, and says it all. Like some omniscient chronicler of the city's life, he daily weaves a mind-bending spiel for the tourists who end up on his bus, seeking to “rewrite their souls and to redo every day that they lived thus far before they came onto the double-decker bus.” You get the feeling Levitch accomplishes that formidable task more often than he realizes. Combining the wry, outrageous wit of a modern-day Oscar Wilde with a healthy dose of NYC angst and a veritable photographic memory concerning everything you'd ever want to know from a tour guide, he feels more like a fictional construct than a real, flesh-and-blood citizen. Levitch has NYC coursing through his veins like some magical drug, and his ongoing love affair with the city translates directly to the audience. If you've never been there, The Cruise will send you rushing to your travel agent to book a flight into JFK, and if you're a native, the film will reaffirm that with which you first fell in love. Miller, a 31-year-old NYU film grad, is obviously passionate about the city he calls home as well; it shows in the lush black-and-white images that illustrate the film (which was shot not on film at all but on digital video) and in the painstaking attention to detail. Whether it's the unforgettable image of Levitch caressing the base of the Brooklyn Bridge in a flurry of lovely synaptic overload or gleefully spinning around and around in the courtyard between the World Trade Center's twin towers, Miller knows how to draw not only a portrait of this epic town but also one of its most endearing figures. Shot over the course of three years, The Cruise follows its wild-maned, adenoidal-voiced subject through the ups and downs of his daily grind at the tour company (his dismay at eventually having to be made to wear a uniform is one of the film's comic highlights). In between work and protracted bouts of couch-surfing, Levitch wanders the city and enthuses on everything from architecture to history to all manner of persons, famous and otherwise (he seems to have a special place in his heart for Thomas Paine). This, according to Levitch, is “the cruise,” the act of living and moving through life with an exploratory, open mindset. Rarely will you find anyone with such a gaping maw of intellect as Levitch, who alternately comes across as a hippie-esque naïf, street scholar, and poet. Miller has somehow, inadvertently by his own admission, managed to capture the essence of the human throng, in all its maddening, scintillating permutations. It's a tour unlike any you have ever taken. (See related interview in this week's “Screens” section.)