95 Miles to Go (2004) - News Poster

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95 Miles to Go

95 Miles to Go
Screened at South by Southwest

AUSTIN -- Finally, there is an answer to the old question, "What's more boring than watching golf on television?" As the new docu 95 Miles to Go reveals, watching Ray Romano watching golf on television is much more boring. So is watching Ray Romano eat at Subway. And nibble from a friend's room-service tray. And drive a car.

In fact, there's very little that Romano does in this behind-the-scenes feature by first-timer Tom Caltabiano that isn't stupefyingly dull. It's no crime for a comedian to be a dud offstage; releasing a movie to prove this isn't the wisest career move. Fortunately for Romano's reputation, it is difficult to imagine more than a few people ever paying to see the film if distributor ThinkFilm follows through on its threat to put it in theaters.

Shot on video with a level of skill and aesthetic aptitude roughly on par with that of a proud parent at a Christmas pageant, the movie rides along with Romano as he makes a short tour of stand-up appearances for corporate clients. (The comic, terrified of air travel, drives from gig to gig.) Where Jerry Seinfeld's Comedian showed a sitcom star facing the challenge of writing new material, 95 Miles has Romano trotting out jokes at least as old as his 1995 appearances on "Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist."

But performance footage is only a small part of the film, which is much more concerned with the mundanity of life on the road. Music documentaries have mined this topic fruitfully in the past, but the good ones have had something to work with: a performer whose observations are sharp or whose charisma transcends the lack of action, or a string of snafus that build to some comic crescendo. 95 Miles offers none of that.

Here, the act of packing a suitcase is considered enough material for a scene. Does an upsetting meal leave Romano in such need of a restroom that he pulls over and pays for a motel room? Sounds like serious drama. If the guy in the passenger seat sneaks out for a snack during the pit stop, call it a set piece.

Groping to understand the film's intent, we wonder if its lack of substance is meant as a nihilist statement. No, that would require protagonists with more punk contempt for the viewer than Romano and company, who are merely inert. Is it a koan for Zen contemplation? That would demand some stillness and formal beauty. Maybe Jim Jarmusch could have been recruited to wring enlightenment from emptiness?

Perhaps the explanation is that this movie, directed by an Everybody Loves Raymond writer and photographed by an intern from the show, is simply the work of people who think Ray Romano's coattails extend from the small screen to the multiplex. That may prove to be true, but this isn't going to be the way to exploit the connection. Romano may fear the dangers of air travel, but his movie's a car wreck.

95 MILES TO GO

ThinkFilm

Schmo-gun Prods./Mr. Clown Prods.

Credits:

Director: Tom Caltabiano

Producers: Ray Romano, Tom Caltabiano

Director of photography: Roger Lay Jr.

Music: Adam Gorgoni

Editor: Cheyenne Pesko

No MPAA rating

Running time -- 76 minutes

SXSW lines up film slate

SXSW lines up film slate
The South by Southwest Film Festival, which runs March 10-18 in Austin, will kick off with the North American premiere of Robert Altman's A Prairie Home Companion, an adaptation of Garrison Keiller's radio show, and will conclude with the closing-night feature American Dreamz, a satirical look at politics and pop culture directed by Paul Weitz and starring Hugh Grant, Dennis Quaid and Mandy Moore. The festival's Spotlight Premieres section will include several features about real-life figures. The lineup includes Mary Harron's The Notorious Bettie Page, about the '50s pinup model; Nick Doob and Chris Hegedus' Al Franken in God Spoke, about political commentator Al Franken; Tom Caltabiano's 95 Miles to Go, which follows comedian Ray Romano on a stand-up tour; Barry Poltermann and Frank Anderson's The Life of Reilly, in which Charles Nelson Reilly performs his one-man show; Ron Mann's Tales of the Rat Fink, a look at hot-rod designer Ed "Big Daddy" Roth; and Harry Moses' Who the $#%& is Jackson Pollock, about painter Jackson Pollock.

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