Published in The Hollywood Reporter
Finally, there is an answer to the old question, "What's more boring than watching golf on television?"
As the new doc "95 Miles To Go" reveals, watching Ray Romano watch golf on television is much more boring. So is watching Ray Romano eat at Subway. And nibble from a friend's room-service tray. And drive a car.
In fact, there's very little that Ray Romano does in this behind-the-scenes feature by first-timer Tom Caltabiano that isn't stupefyingly dull. It's no crime for a comedian to be a dud offstage, but releasing a movie to prove it isn't the wisest career move. Fortunately for Romano's reputation, it is difficult to imagine more than a few hundred people ever paying to see the film, if distributor ThinkFilm follows through on its threat to put it in theaters.
Shot on video with a level of skill and aesthetic aptitude roughly on par with that of a proud parent at a Christmas pageant, the movie rides along with Romano as he makes a short tour of stand-up appearances for corporate clients. (The comic, terrified of air travel, drives from gig to gig.) Where Jerry Seinfeld's "Comedian" showed a sitcom star facing the challenge of writing new material, "95 Miles" has Romano trotting out jokes at least as old as his 1995 appearances on "Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist."
But performance footage is only a small part of the film, which is much more concerned with the mundanity of life on the road. Music documentaries have mined this topic fruitfully in the past, but the good ones have had something to work with: a performer whose observations are sharp or whose charisma transcends the lack of action; a string of snafus that build to some comic crescendo. "95 Miles" offers none of that.
Here, the act of packing a suitcase is considered enough material for a scene. Does an upsetting meal leave Romano in such need of a restroom that he pulls over and pays for a motel room? Sounds like serious drama. If the guy in the passenger seat sneaks out for a snack during the pit stop, call it a set piece.
Groping to understand the film's intent, we wonder if its lack of substance is meant as a nihilist statement. No, that would require protagonists with more punk contempt for the viewer than Romano and company, who are merely inert. Is it a koan for Zen contemplation? That would demand some stillness and formal beauty. Maybe Jim Jarmusch could have been recruited to wring enlightenment from emptiness?
Perhaps the explanation is that this movie, directed by an "Everybody Loves Raymond" writer and photographed by an intern from the show, is simply the work of people who think Ray Romano's coattails extend from the small screen to the multiplex. That may prove to be true, but this isn't going to be the way to exploit the connection. Ray Romano may fear the dangers of air travel, but his movie's a car wreck.