"Coffee and Cigarettes" (IMDb listing) is writer/director Jim Jarmusch's ode to the two favored vices of the hip and the confused. A series of 11 short, black and white vignettes shot by Jarmusch over a 17-year period, the finished product offers nothing in the way of a story or characters, but simply conversations and soliloquies. I could see this easily becoming an endurance test for many, but give yourself over to the laidback charms of the piece, and there's something of worth to be found.
In assembling this love letter to bad habits, Jarmusch has called up some big favors and landed some high profile names for a project that is anything but. Bill Murray shows up to chat about cough medicine with RZA and GZA; Iggy Pop and Tom Waits fuss over their preferred coffee hotspots and bend their no smoking policy; Steve Buscemi lays down some Elvis theories with Spike Lee's siblings, Joie and Cinque; Steven Wright and Roberto Benigni trade afternoon schedules; Cate Blanchett makes awkward small talk with her cousin (also played by Blanchett); Jack White shows off some serious Nikola Tesla trivia to Meg White; and the film's funniest and most focused sequence is found with Alfred Molina and Steve Coogan playing themselves in Hollywood, discovering that they might be cousins.
Not everything works to such an interesting degree. Without much tension or curiosity in watching people talk, drink, smoke, and talk some more (often about nothing in particular), "Coffee" lacks verve. Tempo is even more conspicuously absent when the stars aren't involved, including one film-stopping sequence between two French characters that sets off the pretension warning siren in a big way. And only Jarmusch really holds the keys to what this experiment is all about, since little in the way of interpretable idiosyncrasies comes across during the picture. Much like the title substances, "Coffee and Cigarettes" is barely digestible, but a reasonable way to kill time and enjoy some company.
Filmfodder Grade: B-