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April 2006

95 Miles To Go

By Kam Williams

95 Miles To Go

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Studio: THINKFilm
Director: Tom Caltabiano
Producers: Tom Caltabiano, Ray Romano
Starring: Tom Caltabiano, Ray Romano, Roger Lay Jr.
Rated R for profanity.
Running time: 81 minutes
   
   

Ray Romano Returns to His Comedy Roots in Stand-Up Concert Flick

We all know Ray Romano as the star of the sitcom Everybody Loves Raymond, but many might forget that he was not always at the top of the show-biz food chain. Ray reminds us of just how far he's come from his blue-collar Queens roots in 95 Miles to Go, an alternately endearing and hilarious concert flick in which he crisscrosses the steamy South for eight days in an automobile with his best friend/fellow comedian, Tom Caltabiano, and a fledgling filmmaker, Roger Lay, Jr. a college kid hired to record the whole adventure on videotape.

With Tom serving as his opening act, the plan was for Romano to bring his brand of observational humor to modest venues similar to the joints he worked on the circuit when just starting out over 20 years ago. Appropriately, the movie opens with priceless archival footage from 1985 of a much younger Ray at The Comic Strip, and with humble, but humorous reflections about his employment as a movie theater usher and as a truck washer, obviously long before he got his big break.

What makes 95 Miles to Go so appealing is how he so effortlessly conveys the sense that he's the same approachable guy offstage that you see on TV and onstage. FYI, this critic can attest to this "Down-to-Earth" persona being real, having witnessed the sincerity with which he once paused to sign autographs for and speak with my then 10 year-old son and his friend. In the film, the behind-the-scenes badinage is as funny, if not funnier, than the stand-up routines. For example, when Tom inquires about how long he has to warm-up the crowd before passing the baton to his boss, Ray reminds him to be brief by remarking, "I'm paying you to get off the stage."

On another occasion, they roll into a diner early one morning, dog-tired and unkempt after long hours on the road. When the hostess then tells Ray he's better-looking in person, he responds with, "I must be pretty ugly on TV, if this is better-looking." In concert, he proves to be just as fast on his feet, such as during a question-and-answer session with the audience after a show. "What do you have to do get Tom's phone number?" asks a flirtatious female fan. "First, you have to be gay," Romano retorts. Besides the clever quips, also fairly fascinating is watching Ray deal with a variety of phobias (fears of flying, spiders, and fumes), his mildly obsessive-compulsive neurosis (making odd bets with himself), and his celebrity status (making reservations at motels under the alias "Joe Nemo").