In an age when nicotine is all but outlawed and caffeine comes with a government health warning, it takes a singular talent to base a movie on the joys of the two. For Jim Jarmusch, smoking and drinking java is what life's all about. In this frustratingly over-quirky collection of what Jarmusch calls "short films disguised as a feature (or maybe vice versa)", the director riffs on the two with the help of - among others - Tom Waits, Roberto Benigni, Jack and Meg White, and Steve Buscemi.
Jarmusch has been crafting these black and white shorts for almost two decades, ever since shooting a six-minute short for Saturday Night Live in 1986. An ambling and utterly pointless skit starring Benigni and Steven Wright, it was typical Jarmusch: two people sitting in a room, miscommunicating, puffing on coffin nails and downing cups of black stuff. It sets the tone for almost every one of the other ten vignettes showcased here as characters hang out in cafés, smoking cancer sticks, having meandering broken conversations and - yep, you guessed it - drinking coffee.
"A MIXED BAG OF ENTERTAINING GENIUS"
After Ghost Dog: The Way Of The Samurai, this is Jarmusch returning to his less commercial, more avant-garde roots. The results are a mixed bag of entertaining genius and absolute rubbish. Out of the 11 shorts, it's the rubbish that dominates the scorecard tally with only a couple of entries (Bill Murray's riotous meeting with the "crispy clean no caffeine" Wu Tang Clan, Cate Blanchett's dexterous double role, and Tom Waits winding up Iggy Pop) winning on points.
At its worst this is as frustrating as trying to catch a waiter's eye during the lunch hour rush. But at its best, it distils Jarmusch's lethargic eye for the insignificant comedy of everyday life. Ironically, the most insightful vignette - Steve Coogan and Alfred Molina's painfully shallow conversation about family trees and Hollywood celebrity - doesn't involve either of the titular poisons, just a nice cup of char. There's a message there, Jim. Maybe it's time for a coffee break...