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95 Miles to Go

Is there life after sitcom? Ray Romano takes to the road to find out in "95 Miles to Go," an engaging crazy-quit of comedy performance pic, cinema-verite docu and shambling shaggy dog story. Reviews and word-of-mouth should be favorable enough to expand pic's appeal beyond devoted viewers of Romano's long-running teleseries.

With:
With: Ray Romano, Tom Caltabiano.

Is there life after sitcom? Ray Romano takes to the road to find out in “95 Miles to Go,” an engaging crazy-quit of comedy performance pic, cinema-verite docu and shambling shaggy dog story. Reviews and word-of-mouth should be favorable enough to expand pic’s appeal beyond devoted viewers of Romano’s long-running “Everybody Loves Raymond” teleseries. The catch is, it’s equally probable that many (if not most) of the TV faithful will wait for the DVD release. Still, there’s potential for more than decent mileage during a limited theatrical run set to kick off April 7.

Docu actually covers a great deal more than “95 Miles” while Romano — who’s acutely fearful of flying — drives from gig to gig while returning to his stand-up roots during an eight-day, six-performance tour through Florida and Atlanta. Also along for the ride: First-time director Tom Caltabiano, Romano’s friend, former roommate and frequent opening act; and Roger Lay Jr., an “Everybody Loves Raymond” intern drafted to videotape the on-stage monologues and off-stage give-and-take.

The live performances often are uproarious, especially when Romano is cracking wise about his wife and kids, or describing a worse-case scenario involving his viewing habits on hotel-room TVs. He’s chronically and comically self-effacing, even when receiving welcoming applause from an obviously enthused audience. (“There is so much pressure now… I’m not that funny.”)

Surprisingly, however, barely a third of “95 Miles” is devoted to Romano’s stand-up act. Bulk of pic focuses on behind-the-scenes interplay before and after shows, as Romano seriocomically kvetches about an infinite variety of topics — everything from Caltabiano’s tardiness to the smell of car-window sunscreen — and repeatedly loses mind bets that he wagers with himself. Romano comes across as a likeably neurotic Everyguy who’s unspoiled by success — quite possibly because, judging from throwaway comments here and there, he doesn’t think the fame and good fortune will last — and amazed by his own popularity. He seems genuinely concerned when, after a stand-up performance for a corporate convention, he’s told that he may have caused unintended offense with his passing reference to “oral sex.” (Clips suggest his act is conspicuously low on blue material.)

At another point, he’s approached in a restaurant by a fan who tells him he’s much better-looking in real life. After she departs, Romano turns to Caltabiano and responds: “I must be pretty ugly on TV.”

During extended conversations on and off the road, Romano and Caltabiano parry and thrust in the partly humorous, partly hostile manner of close friends (or long-time marrieds) who feel so secure about their relationship that they don’t worry about expressing occasional annoyance with each other.

Long stretches of “95 Miles” are devoted to their reminiscing and philosophizing, observing and insult swapping, as they take turns behind the wheel. (As much to rankle Caltabiano as to entertain himself, Romano sings golden oldies, including the title tune, in a style best described as belligerent enthusiasm.) That might sound impossibly dull — or, worse, self-indulgent — but these scenes rank among the funniest in the pic. Better still, they also enhance aud’s sense of getting up-close and personal.

On a tech level, “95 Miles to Go” rarely rises above the level of a well-shot home movie. But that, too, gives the pic an overall feel of fly-on-the-wall intimacy.

95 Miles to Go

Production: A ThinkFilm release of a Schmo-Gun Prods. production. Produced by Tom Caltabiabo, Ray Romano. Directed by Tom Caltabiano.

Crew: Camera (color, DV), Roger Lay Jr.; editor, Cheyenne Pesko; music, Adam Gorgoni; sound, Darren Barnett; associate producers, Lay, Pesko. Reviewed at South by Southwest Film Festival (Spotlight Premieres), Austin, Texas, March 13, 2006. Running time: 77 MIN.

With: With: Ray Romano, Tom Caltabiano.

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