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Film review: ‘Coffee’ a cinematic Jekyll and Hyde

Some scenes are funny, but others just go nowhere

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GZA, left, RZA and Bill Murray in "Coffee and Cigarettes," a series of vignettes shot in black and white.

GZA, left, RZA and Bill Murray in “Coffee and Cigarettes,” a series of vignettes shot in black and white.

Jim Jarmusch, Associated Press

COFFEE AND CIGARETTES — ** 1/2 — Bill Murray, Cate Blanchett, Alfred Molina; in black and white; rated R (profanity, racial epithets, vulgarity, brief drugs).

"Coffee and Cigarettes" is as infuriating and inconsistent as a film can get. Some of its scenes are quite dull and dry, yet others are fascinating and funny. And others still are just head-scratchingly weird.

It's hard to predict how audiences will respond to a film this talky and this peculiar. The temptation is to write it off as strictly for fans of director Jim Jarmusch, whose odd methods of storytelling and even-odder ruminations about various subjects are an acquired taste.

"Coffee and Cigarettes" is in essence a series of short vignettes shot in black and white. And as promised by the title, each of the two-character — in some cases, three-character — scenes features people drinking coffee (or tea) and smoking cigarettes. Although it should be noted that the film does point out how unhealthy both habits can be.

Jarmusch and his collaborators shot the various sequences over the past decade, and some of the themes and ideas are redundant, including a discussion of the similarities between music and medicine, as well as an appraisal of inventor Nikola Tesla.

It's a very mixed bag. On the plus side there is a scene in which Cate Blanchett plays herself, as well as her fictional, estranged cousin Shelby (and she's convincing in both roles). And the exchange between musicians Iggy Pop and Tom Waits (a Jarmusch semi-regular) is pretty amusing.

However, there's also a go-nowhere scene about uncommunicative best friends (Alex Descas and Isaach De Bankole). And the opening scene, which features comedians Steven Wright and Roberto Benigni, isn't nearly as funny as you might hope.

Bill Murray's turn as himself is goofy fun (he plays opposite hip-hop musicians GZA and RZA, of the Wu-Tang Clan), but the film's real high point is a vignette featuring Alfred Molina and Steve Coogan. Molina, who often plays heavies, comes off as endearing, while British comedian Coogan uses snarkiness to good effect.

"Coffee and Cigarettes" is rated R for occasional use of strong sexual profanity, scattered use of racial epithets and crude slang terms, and some brief drug content (references to marijuana use). Running time: 96 minutes.

E-mail: jeff@desnews.com