“Seinfeld” was “the show about nothing,” but I always thought that description belonged to a sitcom starring another observational comic: “Everybody Loves Raymond.” Ray Romano, a New Yorker every bit as neurotically easy-going as Jerry Seinfeld, carried his sitcom through nine years of simple stories and easy laughs, and now he headlines a documentary, “95 Miles to Go,” that has just as much “nothing” on its mind. And it’s hilarious, funnier than “Everybody Loves Raymond” ever was.
Ray hates to fly, you see. So for a stand-up tour of six Southern cities in the spring of 2004, he rented a minivan and drove from one gig to the next (he had to endure a flight to Miami as his starting point). He was accompanied by his long-time friend Tom Caltabiano (also a “Raymond” writer and Ray’s opening act) and Roger Lay Jr., a USC film student who was an intern on “Raymond,” who videotaped every moment of the journey.
There is no “plot,” per se. Ray and Tom drive, stay in hotels, do a little sight-seeing, and perform their shows. There are no serious complications, traumas or sidetracks. Everything goes according to plan.
But serenity and calmness are what fuel Ray’s regular-joe sense of humor, and his petty obsessions and gripes — this smells weird, that’s too bright, this is too loud — are uproariously funny. He and Tom bicker like a married couple, but always with a good-natured edge to it, with no grumpy feelings lasting more than a minute or two. They also ridicule each other mercilessly, the way old friends do. Watching two talented stand-up comedians (Tom is no slouch, as we see from the brief clips of his performances) in their natural habitat is a giggly experience indeed.
The film includes some clips of Ray’s shows, amounting to maybe 10 minutes of the running time, and it’s stellar material. But the focus is on everything BESIDES the shows themselves, like Ray renting a hotel room just to use the bathroom, or his weird little “mind bets” where if he can’t accomplish some arbitrary feat, he has to deprive himself of some luxury. (After losing one such bet to himself, he can’t watch TV in his hotel room anymore. Luckily, he finds a loophole: He goes to Tom’s room to watch TV.)
We get a distinct picture of Ray as a quirky oddball and of Tom as a devoted admirer who has known Ray so long that he can ALMOST put up with him. And Roger? He’s just the lackey who carries the camera, capturing all the inconsequential nothingness that comprises Ray and Tom’s eight-day road trip. The movie has no agenda beyond making us laugh, and it accomplishes that just fine.
B+ (1 hr., 25 min.; )