New York City is no place to nurture a poetic soul. Cultivating an appreciation of the finer things in life tends to be a losing game in a town that's more often preoccupied with where it can get a decent frank.
It's the battle that confronts Timothy "Speed" Levitch, the wildly emotional subject of the unsparing documentary "The Cruise." A tour guide whose double-decker bus is a platform for its captain's romantically impassioned history lessons, Levitch doesn't settle for the standard Dorothy-Parker-slept-here spiel. He wants his tourist charges to have a transfixing experience, one that affords them a connection not only with Manhattan's infrastructural trappings, but the rich tapestry of spiritual striving laid beneath them.
Why he's so urgent about it -- and what he's willing to sacrifice to make it happen -- comes into focus as the film follows Levitch on his fantastic voyage. Homeless for all intents and purposes, he'd rather spend half an hour railing against the city's coldly mechanical grid-system layout than looking for reliable shelter. Still, he harbors a deep desire for others (his grandparents in particular) to better understand his less-than-profitable life's work.
Staying with Levitch to the bitter end, however, is a taxing endeavor. His rapid-fire soliloquies and nasal whine are hard to put up with through a full-length feature. After 20 minutes, we're praying that director Bennett Miller will momentarily shift his inquiry to any of the film's potential supporting characters -- Levitch's dispatchers or customers, perhaps -- for a fresh and differing perspective. It doesn't happen. Like it or not, we're trapped on "Speed's" bus.
It doesn't help that Miller has shot the entire film on black-and-white video that's frequently fuzzy around the edges. A few breathtakingly clear shots of Big Apple landmarks might sway us to the side of Levitch's passion, but we're instead left watching the equivalent of a friend's home movies while struggling to feign the proper enthusiasm.
Beauty is not the point of The Cruise's climactic monologue, which rewards the patient with some longed-for insight. Perched atop the Brooklyn Bridge, Levitch issues a stinging rebuke of everyone who's ever done him harm, spitting out names and details with mortifying venom. For all of his enlightened posturing, our guide is shown to be just one more gushing human wound in a community that already numbers 8 million of them among its ranks. You belong to the city, indeed.