Film review

Holy Smokers

DIRECTED BY Jim Jarmusch

STARRING Tom Waits, Iggy Pop, Jack White, Meg White, Bill Murray, Steve Coogan

Opens October 22, Cert 15, 96 mins

Shot chiefly in four bursts (between '86 and last year), this is Jarmusch's low-key, long-nurtured pet project: a series of short vignettes in which various characters sit around talking. The common link is that, while they do, they're fuelling up on caffeine and nicotine: a process which encourages cinematographers from Robby Muller to Tom DiCillo to have stylish fun with black and white. As with any set of shorts, some work better than others. The topics discussed across the table range from fame to green tea, but the success or failure of any scene lies largely with the cast. They're nearly all names you're curious to see, and while some are brilliantly charismatic, others fall flat on their arses. Roberto Benigni and Steven Wright get the ball rolling, very slowly. There's comic misunderstanding as Mr Wacky and Mr Deadpan bewilder each other. Then Steve Buscemi's explaining the true story of Elvis' 'disappearance' to Mystery Train star Cinqué Lee.

There are further debates between Mafioso types, and a couple of scenes in which next to nothing happens. In one, a girl sits smoking while "Crimson And Clover" by Tommy James & The Shondells plays. It's oddly affecting, but nobody could tell you why. Soon, the standouts (and celebs) mount up. Waits and Iggy meet, decide that just one cigarette doesn't mean you haven't kicked smoking, and quibble over which of them's most famous. Iggy recommends a drummer; Tom bristles at being patronised, claims he's a part-time doctor. It's electric. The White Stripes are less so, as Jack drones on to an impassive Meg about Nikola Tesla's inventions. Jarmusch's own favourite scene sees Cate Blanchett parodying both herself as a superstar on a promo trip and her visiting white-trash cousin: she's extraordinary as each polar opposite. The very notion of Bill Murray chewing the fat with RZA and GZA of Wu-Tang Clan is a peach, made friskier by the rappers' way of calling the actor. "Bill Murray" to his face and muttering, "Who you gonna call?" Warhol legend Taylor Mead is effortlessly poetic. And the surprise triumph is the encounter between Steve Coogan and Alfred Molina. Coogan plays arrogant, yawning at the less famous man and looking at his watch, until Spike Jonze phones Molina, after which Steve's kissing Alf's butt. It's very self-aware and funny.

Not every miniature moves mountains here, but there are many moments of magic.

Rating: 4 / 10


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