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With Jim Sabatini

Romance & Cigarettes

Romance & Cigarettes
James Gandolfini, Susan Sarandon, Christopher Walken, Steve Buscemi, Mary-Louise Parker and Aida Turturro

Rated: R for sexual content including some strong dialogue, and language
Reviewed by: Jim  
Release date: September 7, 2007 Released by: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Inc.

John Turturro's long-gestating infectious romp is a labor of love that features a fine cast embracing an ambitiously outlandish vision. It's a musical that touches on many subjects and themes, leaving Hollywood executives at odds on domestic distribution.

The actor turned director (and writer here) finds a spry, trashy way to let Romance & Cigarettes burn on screen, though he's gone through much to get it released stateside (having been in the can over two years).

James Gandolfini's Nick is like a rude Ralph Kramden who isn't in good standing with redhead wife Kitty (Susan Sarandon). She finds a smutty love poem of his that links him to redhead mistress and shopgirl Tula (Kate Winslet). The screenplay essentially builds from the love triangle in bitter, farcical strands.

Nick is in more than a struggle as his feisty wife doesn't seem to be the forgiving type. He may follow in the commitmentphobe category.

Steve Buscemi adds some Ed Norton snap as Nick's garrulous chum, Christopher Walken brings a freaky drollness to Kitty's cousin Bo, and Mandy Moore, Mary-Louise Parker and Aida Turturro (actually almost Gandolfini's age) appear as the daughters going through their own issues.

Turturro had to sit on the project for a while due to Gandolfini's previous schedule on "The Sopranos" and securing the rights to the songs he wanted to use. Nearly all do their own singing except Sarandon who is dubbed. Some of the artists covered here include Tom Jones, Dusty Springfield and Engelbert Humperdinck.

The proceedings are on an early fast track before drastically turning back the rpm's in the finale. Many viewers may prefer the singing and dancing, perhaps a more raw version of Woody Allen's Everyone Says I Love You. The gritty, working-class milieu is drawn in breezy, sometimes raunchy fashion. Turturro has some notable plot shifts and the somewhat surreal quickly becomes more reflective, especially when one considers the title.

There may be some appeal to supporters of John Waters, without the cross-dressing character. Perhaps the most memorable is Winslet who engages the fiery and vulnerable sides of the vampish, tawdry Tula. Lewd and lovely, the commentary extends to marriage and religion in this startling discordant escapade.

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Romance & Cigarettes       C+       C+

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