“Blue in the Face” is amiable enough as far as it goes, but it certainly presents a marketing challenge for Miramax. It will mean nothing to people who haven’t seen the film “Smoke,” and patrons of the earlier film may not feel like experiencing more of the same, especially without any kind of coherent narrative to anchor the various scenes.
During the making of “Smoke,” director Wayne Wang and screenwriter Paul Auster apparently felt unable to include all the characters and subplots originally envisioned.
Money was found, via Miramax, to make another film and production commenced immediately after principal shooting of “Smoke” was completed.
Result is a piecemeal collection of barely connected scenes and characters, stitched together with videotaped comments from a cross-section of Brooklyn residents. It’s sporadically lively and contains quite a few amusing bits and pieces, but marginal bookings may be expected, as the film really adds little to “Smoke.”
Action again centers on the Brooklyn Cigar store, which is still managed by Auggie (Harvey Keitel), but several characters from “Smoke” don’t make it back. Most notable newcomer is Roseanne, who exuberantly plays the long-suffering wife of store owner Vinnie (Victor Argo).
Fed up because he never takes her anywhere, she makes a play for an unresponsive Auggie.
Argo has a more substantial role, and initially has decided to sell the store (“Cigarettes are out; wheat germ is in”) until Auggie persuades him it’s a Brooklyn fixture.
Mel Gorham, as Auggie’s girlfriend Violet, also has a bigger role in “Blue,” as do Giancarlo Esposito, as a fast talker who hangs out at the store, and Jared Harris as Auggie’s slow-witted factotum.
Newcomers include Madonna, doing a lively bit as a singing telegram girl, Michael J. Fox playing a ragged type conducting an offbeat questionnaire, and an unrecognizable Lily Tomlin as an off-the-wall street person.
A couple of familiar faces play themselves. Jim Jarmusch raps with Auggie as he smokes what he claims will be his last cigarette, and they talk about the way Richard Conte smoked in the Lewis Milestone pic “A Walk in the Sun,” which is excerpted.
And Lou Reed explains that he’s never nervous in Brooklyn (Stockholm, he says , is more frightening) and talks about the first time he smoked.
Meanwhile, some of Brooklyn’s ordinary residents still bemoan the dreadful day the Dodgers left for California, and the ugly housing that replaced Ebbets Field is shown. Pic ends with a street party for Brooklyn residents, with John Lurie’s National Orchestra providing the music. Pic has the same high-quality production values as “Smoke,” with only the video interviews detracting from the look of the film. Lurie’s music is bouncy, and Brooklyn residents, at least, will have a ball.