7 September 2005 | The Hollywood Reporter - Movie News | See recent The Hollywood Reporter - Movie News news »
VENICE, Italy -- The Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney spirit is alive and well in John Turturro's "Romance & Cigarettes," with some top stars -- including James Gandolfini, Susan Sarandon and Kate Winslet -- gamely putting on a show, but the sad result is a karaoke nightmare.
Loud and pointlessly crude, the film takes the disintegration of a dysfunctional working-class family and gives it the song-and-dance treatment. It's not pleasant to contemplate the kind of audience that would respond to this, but it's likely to be small and made up of people who fantasize about seeing Tony Soprano belt out "A Man Without Love" along with Engelbert Humperdinck.
Over the top from the start, the film follows Nick Murder (Gandolfini), a builder with no evident mob associations, as he grapples with his noisy wife, Kitty (Sarandon), and dabbles with his redheaded mistress named Tula (Winslet).
Garbagemen, telephone workers and firefighters burst into song at a moment's notice, dancing in the streets, usually to something by Tom Jones or James Brown, as Kitty finds out about Tula and ropes in weird Cousin Bo (Christopher Walken) to hunt her down.
There's a second generation of Murders -- Mary-Louise Parker, Aida Turturro and Mandy Moore -- who torment their father and play in a raucous rock band in the back yard. Moore also has a syncopated passion for a flamboyant neighborhood boy who calls himself Fryburg (Bobby Cannavale).
While Kitty finds solace screaming out "Piece of My Heart" with Janis Joplin and a church choir led by an organist named Gene Vincent (Eddie Izzard, who is wasted), Nick decides to get a circumcision, the better, he believes, to delight women.
The performers all appear to be very pleased with themselves for letting their knickers down, kicking up their heels and being such good sports. Gandolfini acts like Tony Soprano, Sarandon is in full "men are swine" mode and Winslet talks dirty and inexplicably with an accent from England's far north. Ricky Gervais talked Winslet into using gutter language amusingly for his new BBC/HBO television series "Extras", but it appears she's gotten into the habit.
Walken makes an amusing entrance to Elvis Presley's "Trouble" but has little to do after that. Steve Buscemi, as always, fills whatever screen space he occupies with his unique and flawless technique, and Elaine Stritch expertly delivers a bitter but amusing reflection on the men in her life.
They are the only redeeming elements of a picture that strains too hard and bursts of its own self-regard. Turturro, a fine actor, says he dreamed up "Romance & Cigarettes" while making "Barton Fink". It looks more like something that might have been made by Jesus Quintana, the wild man of the bowling alley he played in "The Big Lebowski".
ROMANCE & CIGARETTES
United Artists and Joel & Ethan Coen present in association with Icon Entertainment International a Greenestreet Films production
Director-screenwriter: John Turturro
Producers: John Penotti, John Turturro
Director of photography: Tom Stern
Production designer: Donna Zakowska
Editor: Ray Hubley
Nick Murder: James Gandolfini
Kitty: Susan Sarandon
Tula: Kate Winslet
Angelo: Steve Buscemi
Fryburg: Bobby Cannavale
Baby: Mandy Moore
Constance: Mary-Louise Parker
Rosebud: Aida Turturro
Cousin Bo: Christopher Walken
Gracie: Barbara Sukowa
Nick's mother: Elaine Stritch
Gene Vincent: Eddie Izzard
MPAA rating R
Running time -- 105 minutes
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