Every so often, Jim Jarmusch makes a movie that is so self-conscious, so dominated by his trademark endless pauses, such a torturous experiment in asking the audience to Watch Itself Watching a Movie, that the simple act of sitting through it can suck the juice right out of you. The last time Jarmusch got all trippy-deconstructionist was in 1996, when he made the aridly inert anti-Western Dead Man. The Limits of Control is less root-canal agonizing to sit through, yet it's just as enervated in its loftiness (and therefore primed for accolades from the artier-than-thou set). It's an anti-thriller that toys with conventions of suspense from Hitchcock to Point Blank, yet without ever turning those conventions into anything more than an academic facsimile of a movie.
Isaach De Bankolé, the scowling, chisel-faced French-African actor who happens to be a veteran of three Jarmusch films, stars as some sort of mysterious existential attaché who carries out a globe-trotting assignment of impossible vagueness. All his actions are highly exacting: the ritual ordering of two espressos, the sly exchange of matchboxes, the reading of coded notes he then folds and swallows. But we literally have no idea what their purpose is, and that's the movie's sole repetitive ''theme,'' its Beckettesque grand joke. It's also why The Limits of Control, even with its flow of star cameos (Tilda Swinton, Gael García Bernal, a frenetic Bill Murray), is a listless long pause that rarely refreshes. C–