– Summary –
Director : Wayne Wang
Year Of Release : 1995
Principal Cast : William Hurt, Harvey Keitel, Harold Perrineau, Forest Whitaker, Stockard Channing, Ashley Judd, Victor Argo, Jared Harris, Michelle Hurst, Deridre O’Connell, Malik Yoba, Daniel Auster.
Approx Running Time : 112 Minutes
Synopsis: Auggie owns a cigarette store in New York City – the film tells a variety of stories about both he and his patrons as they work through their internal struggles of daily life.
What we think : Well intentioned, yet ultimately decidedly dull ensemble flick that only sparkles whenever Stockard Channing or Forest Whitaker arrive on scene; Smoke spends more time away from the landmark tobacco store that headlines the film than they do in it. While the characters are generally interesting, and the movie is well filmed in and around New York City, there’s a lethargy and clunkiness to the script and the performances that prevent it from being a great film.
Editors Note: This review is part of The Cinematic Katzenjammer’s Not-So-Secret-Santa Review Swap (in July) Blog-a-thon. For more reviews, head over to TCK and check out what’s happening!
Smoke is one of those ensemble films that has a lot of people doing a lot of stuff that amounts to sod all by the end of the film. A bizarre mix of cigar smoke and coarse language, as well as a dash of heart and some kooky performances by Stockard Channing and Forest Whitaker, sees Smoke just amble along with its hodge-podge narrative, an almost inert attempt to Pulp Fiction-ise an otherwise fairly plain story. Auggie (Harvey Keitel) owns a tobacco store, which is patronized by a writer, Paul Benjamin (William Hurt), whose wife was killed in a botched robbery a few years prior. Paul is saved from being hit by a truck one day, by a young Rashid Cole (Harold Perrineau), and the pair strike an unlikely, and initially awkward, friendship. Rashid, according to his Aunt (Michelle Hurst), who comes looking for the runaway youth, is seeking his estranged father, Cyrus (Forest Whitaker, appearing with a hook on one arm!), who now works at a garage out in the country, perhaps to reconcile with him. When Rashid is discovered to himself have come into possession of stolen money, thanks to local hoodlum The Creeper (Malik Yoba), Paul confronts him but Rashid is resolute. However, after screwing up a business deal of Auggies on his first day at work, Rashid gives Auggie the stolen money to clear his debt. Meanwhile, Auggie’s former lover, Ruby (Stockard Channing, complete with eyepatch, and utterly terrific in a smallish role) arrives in town seeking help with Auggie’s teenage daughter, Felicity (Ashley Judd). Unaware he even had a daughter, Auggie is suspicious at first, but they eventually gives in to Ruby’s hopelessness.
As much as I admire William Hurt and Harvey Keitel as actors, only one of them comes out of this film with his reputation intact. Keitel leads from the front, dominating this film with his spry attitude and surly demeanor. The rest of the cast – Stockard Channing and Forest Whitaker included – tend to become lost in the slow-burn rumble of the films inadequacies, largely to do with pacing. The film creaks along through the melodramatic, often cringingly overblown acting performances, with large inexplicable gaps in dialogue leaving both the actors and the viewers hanging. There’s a fair amount of truth to the film, in that the situations and scenarios seem genuine, “torn from the headlines” as it were, but Wayne Wang’s (The Joy Luck Club, Maid In Manhattan) lyrical photography and weird choice of editing (holding cuts on characters who aren’t directly involved in the action) work counter-intuitively to the attempted Pulp Fiction style interweaving of narrative. The film just meanders, the plot never seems to spark like it should, and there’s a listlessness here that no amount of solid acting work can overcome. Smoke isn’t a great film – it’s not bad, it’s just not quite “good” in the sense you’d enjoy watching it more than once; recommended purely as a curiosity for those interested in seeing Matrix Trilogy’s Perrineau, a young Ashley Judd role, and Harvey Keitel run acting rings around everyone.