It's easy to see why Edward Burns' "Sidewalks of New York" was postponed from its September opening date. In one of the first scenes, you can see the late World Trade Center, looming majestically, directly over Burns' right shoulder. Which wouldn't be so bad. But it's giving the better performance.
"Sidewalks," far less whimsical than its title suggests, co-opts everything in its technique and tone--and nothing in its laugh quotient--from Woody Allen. A more backhanded homage is hard to imagine. An unsuccessful mix of faux urbanity and frat-boy vulgarity, "Sidewalks" feels like a con job--a line delivered by the martini-swilling, gold-chain-wearing Lothario so unctuously played by Dennis Farina, and so cartoonishly overwritten by Burns.
The director also had the less-than-extraordinary idea of using hand-held cameras almost exclusively, resorting to stationary shooting only when a character finds true love; the otherwise hyperactive visuals are meant, presumably, to suggest the unstable terrain of New York Amour 2001. Great idea. But the audience could achieve the same effect eating an anchovy sandwich on horseback. Less a comedic examination of contemporary romance than an autopsy, the film has a terrific cast, but characters who are very hard to love. There's Griffin (Stanley Tucci), the Upper East Side dentist with the beautiful wife, Annie (Heather Graham) and the beautiful, much younger mistress Ashley (Brittany Murphy). Tommy (Burns), who's been tossed out of his shared apartment by an obviously unfeeling girlfriend (she doesn't want children), gets into an erratic relationship with Maria (Rosario Dawson), whose ex, Ben (David Krumholtz) is alternately stalking her and hitting on Ashley. Meanwhile, Annie shows Tommy apartments and starts to wonder about Griffin. She's a genius.
"Sidewalks of New York" is also a movie within a movie, more or less. The opening vignettes show the film's lead characters being interviewed for a documentary about love in Manhattan. Who is making this movie? We never know. Where does the documentary crew go for half-hours at a time? We have no idea. How do they happen to be at the bedside of a bathrobed Griffin just after an unsuccessful tryst with his girlfriend Ashley? It's best not to ask too many questions.
Oh, what the heck. After Griffin and Annie have the most unpleasant of dinners with a bickering couple, why does their discussion of that dinner begin only when they reenter their own apartment? Wouldn't they have talked on the way home? Certainly, during most of the encounters men have with women on the streets of Burns' New York, the women would certainly be calling the cops. (The attentive viewer will recall Burns' "She's the One," in which then-girlfriend Maxine Bahns allowed herself to be picked up by cabdriver Burns before he even turned the meter on.) In a film in which everything is an artificial construct, I suppose you have to admire the consistency.
The other strange thing about "Sidewalks of New York" is the way our sympathies are directed--or left to wander on their own. Tucci is such a good actor that when his character is lying, he's still more convincing than Burns when Tommy is telling the truth, which makes for a weird kind of dramatic tension. The ostensible bad guy is getting the sympathy, simply because his performance is more recognizably human--however sub-, in- or quasi- that humanity happens to be.
People have great apartments in "Sidewalks of New York." Great closets. Miserable lives. The assumption among many when the movie was postponed was that Paramount Classics felt New Yorkers weren't emotionally equipped for something bright or frothy or vivacious. They needn't have been concerned.
MPAA rating: R, for sexual content and language. Times guidelines: acceptable but not recommended for mature teens.
'Sidewalks of New York'
Paramount Classics presents a Marlboro Road Gang production, in association with Artists Production Group, released by Paramount Classics. Writer-director Edward Burns. Producers Catherine Schulman, Rick Yorn, Margot Bridger, Edward Burns. Cinematographer Frank Prinzi. Editor David Greenwald. Costume designer Catherine Thomas.
Running time: 1 hour, 47 minutes.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times