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[whitespace] 'Sidewalks of New York'
Lost in Thought Heather Graham contemplates Ed Burns' essential goodness in 'Sidewalks of New York.'

Burns and Allen

Ed Burns' 'Sidewalks of New York' pays homage to Woody Allen's technique, not insight

By Chris Baker

WITH ITS SHAKY vérité camera, jump cuts and large ensemble cast of characters who speak directly into the camera, Sidewalks of New York, the new movie from writer/director/actor Ed Burns, was obviously conceived as an homage to writer/director/actor Woody Allen's great film Husbands and Wives. Burns' movie doesn't live up to its source material, but it's easily his best work to date. The interlocking tales of dating and divorce and infidelity unfold smoothly, and the acting is always good.

Unfortunately, Sidewalks of New York is essentially an overextended sitcom episode with the raunchiness amped up a notch or two. Each of the principal stars is paired with a secondary character who plays the role of romantic adviser, and they're constantly conducting Seinfeldian debates about the propriety of cologne on the testicles and cunnilingus on the first date. Every character is obsessed with courtship rituals--as the men flirt with the women, they pause to ask if they are doing it properly. The documentary-style monologues that punctuate the story don't add much either. The characters are so straightforward and uncomplicated that there isn't anything that needs to be directly explained to the audience.

The central character is a vain, petty, self-centered adulterer who's drawn to younger women, in short, a walking cliché: middle-aged man as predatory buffoon. Stanley Tucci (Big Night) manages to inject a little humanity into the role. Brittany Murphy (Clueless; Girl, Interrupted) plays Tucci's 19-year-old mistress. We never understand why they're together--she seems to have always loathed him. She even checks her watch during sex with him, just like Jane Fonda in Klute.

The other female characters are deeper and more fleshed out than we've come to expect from Burns. Heather Graham is particularly good as Tucci's withdrawn and bookish wife. Rosario Dawson (Josie and the Pussycats) is also good, though she's prone to grin at the most inappropriate moments. The standout performance comes from David Krumholtz (The Mexican) as a lovelorn doorman/musician. He has a very funny and touching scene in which he continues to flag down taxis for customers as he bawls with heartbroken abandon.

In the end, Burns' outlook is too sunny and superficial to warrant the probing documentary techniques he has appropriated. Husbands and Wives was a bleakly honest portrait of characters sunk in narcissism and self-deception. It appeared at the height of the Mia Farrow/Soon Yi Previn scandal, and Allen's screenplay was very autobiographical and highly self-critical. The role Burns has written for himself is obviously somewhat autobiographical, too, but it's hardly soul-searching.

Burns' character is unpretentiously thoughtful, emotionally articulate and considerate in bed. He desperately wants to settle down and have kids, but all the women he meets are afraid of commitment. He seems to float above the other characters like some stubbly-faced saint. You wish that when Burns was stealing Allen's story structure and showy visual style, he'd also swiped his knack for introspection. Woody probably wouldn't even miss it nowadays.

Sidewalks of New York (R; 107 min.), directed and written by Edward Burns, photographed by Frank Prinzi, and starring Burns, Heather Graham and Stanley Tucci, opens Friday at the Los Gatos Cinema in Los Gatos and the Aquarius in Palo Alto.

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From the November 22-28, 2001 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2001 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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