Thanks to the wonders of daytime TV, the personal confession has become so common that it feels all too familiar in Sidewalks of New York, writer-director Edward Burns' romantic comedy about a sextet of wounded screwballs who couple, uncouple and recouple. And analyze their feelings and fears near to death.
Baldly stealing from Woody Allen (and, for that matter, Barbara Walters), Burns frames the film's stories with a series of man-on-the-street interviews conducted by an anonymous Joe wielding a hand-held camera. Burns stars as Tommy, a TV writer who hooks up with Maria (Rosario Dawson), a tough, guarded schoolteacher who's still wrangling with her ex-husband, a dopey doorman (David Krumholtz). But Tommy's also attracted to Annie (Heather Graham), a prissy real estate agent who's married to Griffin (Stanley Tucci), an unctuous dentist who's cheating on her with Brittany Murphy's 19-year-old undergrad. And did I mention that the doorman has a thing for the undergrad, too?
Obviously, possibilities abound here, and Burns makes occasional good use of them. Too often, though, the speak-to-the-camera technique intrudes, nonsensical to the point of distraction. The street-corner scenes I can buy, but how exactly does it compute that our anonymous interviewer is on hand in Tucci's posh hotel room scant seconds after Murphy has fled the scene?
At least the performances are winning. Graham does a nice job of capturing her character's dread and discontent, and Krumholtz, even though he's playing a horny putz, still creates a likable guy. Tucci's character is the least credible of the bunch, a compendium of macho stereotypes that edges dangerously close to over-the-top. He bags Murphy's undergrad with the lamest pick-up line of 2001: "You have the look of the new millennium." Puh-leeze. It's hard enough to believe that any woman would tumble for his smarm, let alone both Heather Graham and Brittany Murphy.
Like The Brothers McMullen and She's the One, a pair of significantly more balanced Burns efforts, Sidewalks of New York is all about talk; the difference is that the psychoanalysis in Burns' earlier films seemed to be going somewhere. Here, it's often just so much babble. Too bad: There's a good film to be made on this subject. And as a matter of fact, Jacques Rivette just made it. It's called Va Savoir.