Join or Sign In

Sign in to customize your TV listings

Continue with Facebook Continue with email

By joining TV Guide, you agree to our Terms of Use and acknowledge the data practices in our Privacy Policy.

Blue in the Face Reviews

BLUE IN THE FACE is not exactly a sequel to Wayne Wang's SMOKE, though it was filmed over five days following SMOKE's early wrap. When Wang's extraordinary cast and crew found themselves with a little time, a lot of film stock and plenty of inspiration on hand, Miramax topper Harvey Weinstein agreed to throw some more cash into the pot to do an improvisational film. SMOKE was directed by Wang (CHAN IS MISSING, THE JOY LUCK CLUB) from a screenplay by Brooklyn-based novelist Paul Auster. Despite Wang's solid credentials as an auteur, the problem with SMOKE was in its direction -- or nondirection -- of the characters. Stars Harvey Keitel and William Hurt turned in solid, down-the-middle versions of themselves, but supporting players often stumbled through their parts, bumping disagreeably into the fourth wall. I like BLUE IN THE FACE, which I saw at the Toronto Film Festival, better than SMOKE: It's slighter in ambition but cleaner in its burn. It's set in the same Brooklyn Cigar Store, corner of 16th and Prospect Park West, where proprietor Auggie Wren (Keitel) still holds court. In every other respect, however, it's a different story. The concept behind BLUE called for the actors to talk until they were blue in the face, or until the 10-minute film magazines ran out, whichever came first. (Both Wang and Auster are credited as directors, but it was mostly Auster behind the camera.) So the film is chop city: In come Keitel and the delightfully deadpan Lou Reed, who provide a narrative thread that barely holds together miscellaneous bits by, inter al., Michael J. Fox, Roseanne, Jim Jarmusch, Lily Tomlin, Mel Gorham, Giancarlo Esposito, Malik Yoba, Vinnie Argo, Mira Sorvino and Madonna (the latter in a mercifully brief butt-in-your-face routine). It feels less like a movie than a lost episode of the old Steve Allen or Jack Paar late-night chat shows. Or maybe BLUE is The Ed Sullivan Show of the '90s, a variety showcase for the great, the near-great and the merely hip to show up, do their riffs and then move on. There is such gently seductive humor and bonhomie about this cigar store and its crazy cats that you almost miss what's going on. Here is a clean, well-lighted place where Jews and blacks and Hispanics, drifters and crazies and cranks, can all chew the cud, shoot the breeze and simply coexist. It's the old melting pot, bent a little for our time, but right out of the Capra school of American wish fulfillment. To put it another way, BLUE IN THE FACE reconstructs the Raccoon Lodge from The Honeymooners -- the place where Kramden and Norton, who can't see their wives as much more than mommies to be resentfully obeyed, go to get away from women. And that's OK, too. There should be Raccoon Lodges everywhere for both sexes, safe places just to hang out and be among friends. For that matter, there should be theaters where you can watch BLUE IN THE FACE, hang your feet over the chair in front of you and pull out a Hoya de Monterey without getting lynched.