Caffeine and Nicotine

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Coffee And Cigarettes? The title is a flat-out anachronism. As the sales curve at Starbucks proves, we still meet our pals for conversations in public caffeine dispensaries. But cigarettes are verboten.

This is of no consequence to Jim Jarmusch, whose sneakily delirious film offers a series of vignettes in which a number of potent stars (Cate Blanchett, Bill Murray, Tom Waits and Iggy Pop among them), playing fictionalized versions of themselves, consume large quantities of nasty-looking java and enough smoke to put the entire nation on a Stage 3 smog alert.

The best of these has Blanchett as a slim, chic movie star taking a break from a day of interviews to meet her cousin, whom she also plays, in a hotel lobby. The cousin is a mess — hooked up with a trashed rocker, nursing and occasionally flashing her envious grievances at her star relative. They would like to pretend that nothing has changed since childhood. Both know better. You will cringe. You will laugh uncomfortably. You will get the basic idea of Jarmusch's movie, which is that all his anecdotal encounters are about the betrayal of the coffee-and-cigarettes ideal. They're not about the genial bonding we anticipate. They're about misunderstanding, edging over into suppressed hostility.

Some of the other sketches are way too sketchy, but there's much to be said for the rock stars, Waits and Pop, playing bumper cars with their egos. Murray is good, too, as a caffeine freak who slurps directly from the pot and goofily encounters rappers GZA and RZA, who apparently have a sideline in holistic medicine.

We are, of course, in the realm of the sweetly surreal, especially since Jarmusch's film, despite all its here-and-now actors, is shot in the kind of murky black-and-white that one associates with '50s B pictures. It feels as if it has been recovered from a time capsule, and what larger meaning it may have is anyone's guess. But it is way cool — and funny — in ways that more expensive comedies trying harder rarely are.