This global shaggy-dog story is director/writer/producer Jim Jarmusch's most accessible work to date. The film comprises five segments, each of which is set in a taxi, that take place simultaneously at different points around the globe. Starring a very cool collection of international actors, and directed by the king of the American alternative movie scene, these funny yet poignant stories could be described as joined at the hip. NIGHT ON EARTH begins at sunset on a winter's day in L.A., and then moves through nighttime in New York, Paris, Rome, and finally Helsinki, where the sun is rising as the last section comes to an end. The basic connection is the relationship between driver and passenger that each story explores, though the segments are also linked in other, less obvious, ways. As with the best short stories, the segments are less about plot--very little actually happens--than they are about character, dialogue, and mood. Jarmusch is a master of all these elements, and clearly has an intuitive rapport with his cast. The best of the actors--Giancarlo Esposito and Armin Mueller-Stahl in New York, Isaach de Bankole and Beatrice Dalle in Paris, Roberto Benigni in Rome, and Matti Pellonpaa in Helsinki--bring the proceedings to three-dimensional life, mining the script for laughs and even coaxing social and political overtones from Jarmusch's minimalist writing. On a purely visual level, the casting choices are inspired. De Bankole, as a brusque, defensive Ivory Coast native transplanted to Paris, has a face that radiates sullen pride; and Pellonpaa, who subdues a cabful of Helsinki drunks with a story that moves the film from comedy into elegy, has a hang-dog expression that cannot be rivalled. All this is perfectly complemented by the director's moody evocation of the five night-shrouded urban settings. The film's only low points come courtesy of Winona Ryder, who unforgivably mugs her way through the glib first segment; and Rosie Perez, whose high-pitched whining in the New York section reminds you what it's like to be trapped in a cab with a driver who won't shut up.