Blue in the Face

Reviewed By Chris Parry
Posted 11/23/02 16:05:36

"Shot in a week as an afterthought, but better than its predecessor."
4 stars (Worth A Look)

Call it a cross between Woody Allen and Spike Lee or call it half a documentary on Brooklyn combined with half a comedy about a smoke shop. However you want to label it, Blue in the Face, a somewhat-sequel to Wayne Wang’s Smoke, is a very funny, very enjoyable flick.

Augie runs a cigar shop in Brooklyn for the owner, Vinny. Augie’s been working the store for decades, knows everyone in the neighborhood and spends all day chatting to them about life while reveling in the fact that his life has no drama.

Now, if this sounds exactly like Wang’s earlier flick, Smoke, that’s because it was filmed on the back of the original Smoke production, almost entirely as a series of improvs. The story goes that co-directors Wayne Wang and Paul Auster were watching Harvey Keitel improving in preparation for his lead role in Smoke and were enjoying it so much that they decided to use some leftover film and just keep shooting. The result is Blue in the Face.

Smoke centered on Augie (Keitel) and his Cigar Store and the people that visit it daily, but while that film was entirely narrative-based, this film is almost a documentary. More than that, it’s so packed full of cameos and famous folks telling their New York stories that you care a lot less about what it is and just go with it. The whole film has a very familiar feel, kind of like a group of friends with a camera just hamming it up and talking about… stuff.

Jim Jarmusch is there, so too Roseanne, Lou Reed makes a couple of hilarious observations, Madonna delivers a singing telegram, Mira Sorvino gets her purse stolen, Michael J. Fox delivers in a very unlikely role, even Lily Tomlin shows up, though you won’t know who she is until the credits roll. Alongside all of those participants, Keitel engages in a small story, whereby his Cigar Store, owned by his buddy Vinny (Victor Argo), is going to be sold and turned into a health food store. Meanwhile, his girlfriend (Mel Gorham) is trying to convince him to go out dancing on Saturday – who knows why, but she does, so just go with it.

A likeable collection of folks, a likeable collection of anecdotes, a likeable look at New York City… I guess you could say it’s likeable.

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