Lionsgate // 1998 // 76 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Brett Cullum // March 13th, 2006
You are 3 1/2 blocks away from infinity.
Thanks to the popularity of the Bennet Miller-directed Capote, his brilliant debut, a 1998 documentary about Timothy "Speed" Levitch, is being re-released. The Cruise is a loving, grainy, black and white portrait of a neurotic New Yorker who takes tourists on a wild philosophical tour of New York City on a double decker bus. He talks in a nasally Woody Allen whine at about 300 mph, is completely brilliant, and is probably insane. Or maybe he's just the embodiment of the slacker culture of the '90s made flesh, and injected with an overcaffienated mind spinning on its own philosophy while holding down a nine dollar an hour job and sleeping on couch after couch at friend's places. He graduated from college in 1992, and just stayed in Manhattan giving tours (after a brief attempt as a proofreader for Penthouse). He has no other aspirations other than "rewriting people's souls" with his verbal rants on a bus over a tinny sound system. You'd think he would scare the shit out of tourists, but people clamored to be on his tours. That's because anybody can see the Empire State building, but not everyone can claim to have been transfixed by Timothy "Speed" Levitch. He is what makes New York special, because only he could be made flesh by such a city. His hopes, his dreams are the metropolis. They are married, and they are one.
You would think The Cruise would be an interesting travelogue of New York City. Although we do get to see some familiar sites, including winsome glimpses of the World Trade Center towers, the camera hardly ever leaves the face of our tour guide. This is all one extended character study, and is not concerned with narrative or sight seeing. No, this is a dadaist manifesto delivered off the pavement leading to the Brooklyn bridge. It runs like an hour of poetic jazz -- verbal scats and flourishes aplenty. Many people were frustrated by The Cruise because it has no explanation and no background information, just Timothy spouting from frame one to its conclusion. We leave not knowing all that much about him; he remains an enigma. I've already told you more about his life than you will learn from viewing The Cruise on a loop for three days straight. He's a talker who spouts on and on about anything but himself. He talks in philosophical circles where history, the present, architecture, and botanical science all collide.
The disc itself is a bare bones affair featuring only the film and scene selections. There are no commentaries or deleted scenes, but it hardly needs these things. The Cruise as a movie is so unique it defies conventional explanation or EPK exploration. The transfer is purposefully poor. Bennet Miller simply followed Speed around with a handheld VHS camera, and the film image was blown up from those poor low resolution sources. The hazy black and white seems appropriately dreamy. The back of the box seems to claim a full Dolby surround treatment, but the disc actually delivers a simple two channel stereo mix.
The shame is you can't take one of Timothy's bus tours anymore. He has retired from the double decker tour business, and is now a private "For Hire" walking tour guide. He's become quite a celebrity in his own right, and is good friends with Richard Linklater (Dazed and Confused, Slacker). He's decided the city needs to take Ground Zero, where the World Trade Center once was, and turn it into a grassy field where buffalo can roam in a sanctuary. I wish I could tell you how to book a tour with Speed, but I imagine the easiest thing would be to check out this disc if it sounds like something you'd like to try. If you love New York, or the quirky characters that emerge from her streets, this film's for you. The Cruise is one of those hidden documentary gems that proves the truth is always stranger than fiction.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 76 Minutes
Release Year: 1998
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
* Official Site