Thanks (actually, no thanks) to the disaster that happened a few blocks away, downtown artist Reno bravely and brilliantly turned the World Trade Center attacks into a club act soon after the event. The gesture was hardly exploitative; as anyone who lived in the area knows, her embrace was part of the healing process that still goes on today. Thus, the film delivers not just the full assault of Reno's immense wit and insight, but a time travel back to what it felt like during those unforgettably uncertain days.

Director Nancy Savoca's (True Love, Household Saints) work can easily be forgiven for not being the most technically polished piece of filmmaking to reach screens. Her coup was to recognize the degree of Reno's talent and power to amuse, letting the comic take over the frame with a kinetic vengeance perfectly suited to video.

In spite of the subject matter and Reno's notorious stream-of-consciousness approach to any subject, Reno: Rebel Without a Pause is never in even questionable taste. Engendering her own peculiarities into the event, Reno shares what is was like to be phoned so early that morning by apologetic friends who knew she always slept late. There was that immediate trip to the ATM machine that couldn't deliver money, the bad water that came through her faucet, the horrific unfolding of events as one tower toppled after the another, and her fearful retreat a few blocks north, where rumors spread that a terrorist had taken over a popular health-food restaurant.

Reno riffs on Osama Bin Laden, Larry King, John Ashcroft and Operation Enduring Freedom--a misnomer, according to Reno, if one considers the other meaning of "endure." Her comments won't always sit well with some sitting right of center. Yes, she rails against Bush, the notion of being a "proud" American ("proud," she objects, suggests she had something to do with making the country what it is), and the reference to God in "God Bless America." Yet all patriots can rest easy: Reno is happy to be an American and, obviously, could not, would not live anywhere else. (Even getting this quintessential New Yorker out of New York would be an unimaginable stretch.) A heartfelt rendering of "God Bless America" brings a wellspring of real tears to her eyes.

Can the subject of 9/11 be funny? In the hands and out of the mouth of a gifted and sensitive comic like Reno, it can. Beyond the wisdom, hilarity and good timing of her shtick, the comedienne has those rarest of gifts--charisma, eloquence and daring. Never missing a beat (editor Suzanne Spangler can share credit on that point) or at a loss for words, Reno mesmerizes as she holds center stage while tilting pretty far to the left.

--Doris Toumarkine