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Blue in the Face

movie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: Blue in the Face

Starring: Harvey Keitel, Giancarlo Esposito
Director: Wayne Wang
Rated: R
RunTime: 84 Minutes
Release Date: October 1995
Genres: Comedy, Drama

*Also starring: Roseanne, Michael J. Fox, Lily Tomlin, Jose Zuniga, Madonna, Lou Reed, Jim Jarmusch, Mira Sorvino

Review by Steve Rhodes
2½ stars out of 4

BLUE IN THE FACE was made by the same directors (Wayne Wang and Paul Auster) that made the highly acclaimed SMOKE. In fact, the whole reason that BLUE IN THE FACE was made was that the directors and the cast found that they had an extra week on their hands, so hey, they decided to make a fast, improvisational movie with the same sets and some of the same cast. The result is a fun, upbeat movie that is another talk fest just like SMOKE, but not as serious - think of it as SMOKE-lite.

BLUE IN THE FACE is a series of vignettes. The writing is credited to the directors, but it feels like the actors were winging it most of the time. The movie is again set in the Brooklyn Cigar Company run by Auggie Wren (Harvey Keitel) but owned by Vinnie (Victor Argo). The subject this time is Belgium waffles, Jackie Robinson (Keith David), the passing of the Brooklyn Dodgers, and the destruction of Ebbets Field. A subplot has Vinnie closing the cigar shop to turn it into a health food store since, "Tobacco is out. Wheat germ is in." There is also attempted infidelity and robbery, but most of all, it is just a bunch of good friends of all ethnic groups standing around and gabbing about life.

The picture starts with a 10 year old kid (Sharif Rashed) stealing the handbag of a beautiful, miniskirted, young woman (Mira Sorvino from Barcelona). Auggie chases the kid down only to have the woman say let him go. Auggie takes the bag from the woman and gives it to the kid and tells him to beat it. She is nonplused. The movie is a series of crazy incidents like that.

Intertwined with the regular movie, there are two different series of interviews, documentary style. One series is done with a cheap camcorder that produces grainy, saturated images. I believe that these interviews were real. There is also a set of made up interviews, mainly of an unnamed owner (Lou Reed) of another smoke shop. He is a talker, a philosopher, and a long time New Yorker. He tells us, "I'm scared twenty-four hours a day, but not in New York. I'm scared in Sweden" and then he goes on to explain it is because they keep benevolently looking after his every move there. In another of his scenes, he says, "Yes, I am smoking cigarettes and some of my friends have died of them, but I am not downing a quart of Scotch in fifteen minutes. Looked at that way, cigarettes are actually a health tool!"

One of Auggie's regulars, Bob (Jim Jarmusch), decides to give up cigarettes, but smoke his last one with Auggie. Bob regrets having to give them up, saying that, "Coffee and cigarettes. That's like the breakfast of champions."

Keitel makes you feel good to be alive. His smile is infectious. You want so bad to be there swapping stories. In fact the ultimate message of the film has to be that the brotherhood of mankind transcends all races. Many scenes feature actors of one race telling how many people of some other race live in Brooklyn.

I have only touched on the numerous sketches in BLUE IN THE FACE. Among others, you get to see a signing telegram one with Madonna and a seduction one by the store owner's wife, Dot (played by none other than Roseanne). And on and on.

It is a fun time at the movies. The sets by Kalina Ivanov are just as imaginative and realistic as in SMOKE since they are the exact same ones. The costumes (Claudia Brown) are a little more outlandish than SMOKE since I think she wanted to tease the audience a bit more. The cinematography (Adam Holender) is natural but not anything special.

BLUE IN THE FACE is edited (Maysie Hoy) crisply and runs a fast 1:29. It is rated R for a little nudity and a little bad language. Personally, I would have given it a PG-13. It would be fine for any teenager, and perhaps even slightly younger kids. This is a little movie that I am not wild about, but did enjoy, and I can and do recommend it to you. It gets ** 1/2 in my book.

Copyright 1995 Steve Rhodes

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