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New York Nice Guy

Matt Ross & Callie Thorne
Peter Nelson

Passing Fancy: Ed (Matt Ross) eyes Lee's (Callie Thorne's) condiments in the shaggy-dog romance "Ed's Next Move."

'Ed's Next Move' is a date movie sans chemistry

By Richard von Busack

NEW NEW YORKER Eddie (Matt Ross) starts dealing with the lightly comic realities of urban life: shared housing, subways, vermin and Bela Lugosi­accented artists. But the city provides other pleasure: maternal waitresses, oddball foods and quirky sales clerks. At his favorite breakfast spot, Ed spies Natalie, Lee for short (Callie Thorne). He tries shyly but persistently to court her, and that's about all there is to the gentle, cheerful Ed's Next Move.

Some critics have posited that fluffy nonentities like The Brothers McMullen succeed because they address the romantic longings of guys. As such, The Brothers McMullen and the far more charming Ed's Next Move serve the alternative date-movie market just as Woody Allen used to, before he got so isolated by fame that he was reduced to dating his own stepdaughter.

A few songs by the San Francisco folk trio Ed's Redeeming Qualities form the spine of the movie, in the same way that Simon and Garfunkel were the backbone of The Graduate. The group performs some plot-advancing musical numbers on stage, and Lee is meant to be a fictional fourth member of the band. Since Lee is a sketchy little imago, the music fleshes her out and gives her soul.

Ed's Redeeming Qualities is the kind of band whose faux naiveté would be hard on the stomach if it weren't for its obviously heartfelt goofiness. Jonah Winter's soulful clarinet, Carrie Bradley's whispery, fetching growl, the clever plays on words, forced rhymes and gratuitous ukulele are all exemplified on the live album Big Grapefruit Clean-up Job (Slow River). The album's best song is the calypso number "I Will Wait," sung from the point of view of a waiter (who might as easily have been the hero of this movie) reassuring a woman that he's willing to be friends: "I'm Platonic as Plato/and I'm honest as Lincoln."

It's a low-key band, lovable precisely because it doesn't expect to knock your socks off, and director/writer John Walsh is never so honest as when he doesn't present them as world-beaters. Perhaps the best moment in the film is the reaction of Eddie's best friend. Watching the group, Ray (Kevin Carroll) has a facial expression that says, "Good Lord, what the hell?"--precisely the expression I've seen on people who didn't fall as hard for the band as I did. Ed's music is thoughtful, the opposite of rock music based on a scheme of physical attraction first and mental attraction second. Which is also the point of Ed's Next Move.

Ross is a newcomer (who had a few lines in Twelve Monkeys as an animal-rights protester)--a harmless nice guy, a Charles Grodin in training. Thorne is from Lili Taylor's theatrical troupe, Naked Angels, and she conveys serious, intimidating edginess. Instinct tells you, though the movie doesn't, that their relationship can't last.

Of course, the other side of a relationship based on mutual inoffensiveness is a general lack of chemistry, a problem that afflicts Ed's Next Move. You may wish it were otherwise, but that's the movies for you, always encouraging your worst instincts. Lack of chemistry shows up on screen writ large in Ed's Next Move , and the movie is ultimately as indistinct as it is agreeable.


Ed's Next Move (R; 88 min.), directed and written by John Walsh, photographed by Peter Nelson, and starring Matt Ross and Callie Thorne.

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From the October 3-9, 1996 issue of Metro

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