The uncredited star of the rambling comedy Smoke (1995, Miramax, R, priced for rental) is the Brooklyn neighborhood of Park Slope. I live there myself and can attest to the sooty whiffs of magical realism that this movie offhandedly grabs at. The Slope mashes New York’s classes together with rare grace: It has locals like Auggie Wren (Harvey Keitel) who run the delis or, in Auggie’s case, the cigar store. It has yuppies like novelist Paul Benjamin (William Hurt) who disappear into Manhattan for long hours or work at home in a neighborhood that’s not quite theirs. And it has visitors from the harder parts of the city, like Rashid (Harold Perrineau Jr.), who passes through Auggie’s and Paul’s life and brings them together in terse friendship.
Yet Smoke, directed by Wayne Wang and written by Paul Auster, dissipates into thin air. (They simultaneously shot a companion film, Blue in the Face, currently in theaters.) Hurt is eerily perfect as a man who has turned distracted and rude since his wife’s death, and Forest Whitaker brings a lovely ease to the part of Rashid’s long-sought father. But Keitel plays cute, and Stockard Channing as a patch-wearing doxy might as well have the word ”whimsy” tattooed on her forehead. The movie has an anecdotal feel that makes it a pleasantly homey video experience, but Wang and Auster push the fabulist aspect of Park Slope a shade too hard. It’s there, all right—you just can’t stare directly at it. B