Jarmusch enlists a diverse cast of indie stars and former colleagues for this modest ensemble, but his uncharacteristically wheezy writing frequently undermines the film's wry humor. Cate Blanchett, in a dual performance, plays an arrogant version of herself as well as her skuzzy, jealous cousin, but the piece's portrait of jealousy and resentment loses steam after you become accustomed to seeing the actress talk to herself. Similarly, The White Stripes' Meg and Jack White provide a brief lesson on inventor Nikola Tesla's Tesla Coil, but save for the creepy, Mao Tse-tung-inspired portrait of Lee Marvin hanging on the wall behind them, the skit is nothing more than an overly long non sequitur. And even a brief appearance by Steve Buscemi can't rescue an insipid bit about two argumentative African-American twins talking racial politics in a Memphis diner.
As in Stranger Than Paradise, Down by Law, and Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai, Jarmusch finds his funniest results in unusual, culture-clash pairings. Hyperactive Roberto Benigni and somnambulant jokester Steven Wright ineptly attempt to bridge the language barrier over some sugary espresso, while Iggy Pop and Tom Waits - two grizzled, rebellious rock vets acting uncharacteristically mellow at a downtown bar - awkwardly converse before bonding over a decision to abandon their non-smoking ways. Yet the film's finest skit involves The Wu-Tang Clan's RZA and GZA discussing the finer points of alternative medicine, only to have their conversation interrupted by Bill Murray as their crazy waiter. The brilliantly befuddled Murray gulps coffee straight from the pot while lighting cigarettes with a stove lighter, and the hip-hop stars' constant habit of ending every sentence with the actor's name - such as when, after Murray lets loose with a hearty smoker's cough, GZA exclaims, "That don't sound too good, Bill Murray!" - is pricelessly absurd.
Working with four cinematographers - including Tom DiCillo, Frederick Elmes, Ellen Kuras, and long-time collaborator Robby Müller - Jarmusch shoots in luscious black and white with only a few static set-ups, the most frequent of which is an overhead shot of a table filled with assorted coffee cups, ashtrays, and cigarette packs. Every table boasts a checkerboard or plaid pattern, highlighting the intertwined pleasures of taking a drag and drinking a cup of Joe, but the irony is that there's not much holding these eclectic, lackadaisical, and sometimes unnecessarily repetitive segments together. Coffee and Cigarettes is agreeably benign, but it ultimately feels like the tossed-off side-project of an artist biding his time before tackling something substantive.
Notable DVD extras include a Bill Murray outtake (his disguise is revealed at last) and an interview with Taylor Mead, who appears in the final scene.
There's no smoking at the movies.
Run time: 95 mins
In Theaters: Friday 12th March 2004
Box Office USA: $2.0M
Box Office Worldwide: $7.9M
Distributed by: MGM
Contactmusic.com: 2.5 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 65%
Fresh: 79 Rotten: 43
IMDB: 7.0 / 10
Director: Jim Jarmusch
Screenwriter: Jim Jarmusch
Starring: Roberto Benigni as Roberto, Steven Wright as Steven, Joie Lee as Good Twin, Cinqué Lee as Evil Twin, Steve Buscemi as Kellner, Iggy Pop as Iggy, Tom Waits as Tom, Joseph Rigano as Joe, Vinny Vella as Vinny, Vinny Vella Jr. as Vinny Jr., Renee French as Renée, E.J. Rodriguez as Waiter, Alex Descas as Alex, Isaach De Bankolé as Isaach, Cate Blanchett as Cate/Shelly, Meg White as Meg, Jack White as Jack, Alfred Molina as Alfred, Steve Coogan as Steve, Bill Murray as Bill Murray, William Rice as Bill, Taylor Mead as Taylor, RZA as RZA, The GZA as GZA
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