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movie reviewmovie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: Smoke

Starring: William Hurt, Harvey Keitel
Director: Wayne Wang
Rated: R
RunTime: 112 Minutes
Release Date: June 1995
Genres: Comedy, Drama, Independent

*Also starring: Forest Whitaker, Ashley Judd, Stockard Channing, Giancarlo Esposito, Harold Perrineau Jr., Erica Gimpel, Clarice Taylor

Review by Andrew Hicks
3 stars out of 4

Let me tell you, SMOKE gets in your eyes. I don't know what that means, but I imagine at least two-thirds of the movie reviewers on the planet made that connection in their SMOKE review, so I had to take the opportunity too... SMOKE isn't about smoking, although the one thing all its characters have in common is an affinity for inhaling poison into their lungs. Harvey Keitel plays the owner of a cigar / cigarette store, with various plots and subplots connected to patrons like author Paul Benjamin (William Hurt) and an ex-girlfriend (?).

Hurt's story begins as a 17-year-old black kid named Rashid (or Thomas or Paul) pushes him out of the way of an oncoming truck, saving his life. Hurt insists on retribution and, upon learning Rashid is running from some tough guys, lets him stay at his place for a few days. This has all the makings of a "Fresh Prince of Brooklyn" sitcom (or an underground porno flick), but instead leads to another subplot, where Rashid finally locates his real father, who befriends him without knowing his true identity (millionaire Bruce Wayne). Keitel, meanwhile, is told of a daughter he never knew he never knew, a pregnant, 18-year-old crack addict (Ashley Judd). She pleads him to talk sense into Ashley, so she'll mend her crazy ways and stop recording all that crappy country music.

These subplots eventually collide in a few ways, with Keitel sharing a truly compelling Christmas story with Hurt and Rashid working at the cigar store. I find it hard to believe, even in a movie, that any black teenager would hang out with fifty-year-old white guys. That has about the same statistical probability as Newt Gingrich and Bill Clinton teaming up to cruise for chicks at a topless bar. Then again, several Washington insiders have told me that's happened on more than one occasion, so what do I know? But I do know this -- SMOKE is a masterpiece in plot and dialogue. It may be a low-budget, low-action movie, but it's definitely worth watching.

An aside -- SMOKE almost threw a monkey wrench into my Keitel Postulate, which states that Harvey Keitel only plays cops and criminals in the movies. Here, he seems to be neither, but notice how one of the plot points involves his illegal smuggling of Cuban cigars into the country. That's criminal activity, my friend, and it once again saves my Keitel Postulate from being thrown out the window.

Copyright 1996 Andrew Hicks

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