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SIDEWALKS OF NEW YORK(director/writer: Edward Burns; cinematographer: Frank Prinzi; editor: David Greenwald; music: Laura Ziffren; cast: Edward Burns (Tommy), Rosario Dawson (Maria), Dennis Farina (Carpo), Heather Graham (Annie), David Krumholtz (Ben), Brittany Murphy (Ashley), Stanley Tucci (Griffin), Libby Langdon (Molly), Michael Leydon Campbell (Harry), Nadia Dajani (Hilary), Callie Thorne (Sue); Runtime: 100; Paramount Classics; 2001)
“A comedy/romance for the under forty crowd obsessed with sex, relationships, fidelity, and their neuroses.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A comedy/romance for the under forty crowd obsessed with sex, relationships, fidelity, and their neuroses. Writer-director-star of this set in NYC social conscience flick, is the handsome but dispassionate Edward Burns. He exudes charm and sex appeal in this breezy sitcom. The story has Woody Allen written all over it but without the aging comedian’s wit and brand of neurotic Jewishness, as the film just ripped off the way he tells a story and how he operates a hand-held camera. For most of the film it apes the daily jittery NYC rhythms, in the way Woody would have filmed it. The story itself leads nowhere interesting, as it makes a big deal out of the obvious dysfunctional relationships and seems slow in developing. But the actors are all likable and up to their parts. Stanley Tucci makes the most of his villain role as a scumbag two-timing dentist, while Dennis Farina adds comic relief as the sleazy Lothario relative and mentor to Edward Burns. He advises him to spritz his balls with cologne before going on a date, the women appreciate such things.

On the sidewalks of New York the characters are given mock-documentary interviews by someone unseen, who is asking about their sex life. The location shots are around Soho, the Village, Park Avenue, and eerily where the WTC was once situated. These interviews are interspersed throughout, and become more annoying than funny after a while.

The main focus is on Tommy (Burns), a sincere TV producer and unflawed hunk with money and ethics. He was born and raised in Queens, who is sometimes interviewed while wearing a white Burberry raincoat and other times he’s dressed as if he were a yuppie model for Bloomingdales. He tells the interviewer he lost his virginity at 15 while making it with an older college freshman in the backseat of her Caddy. Tommy is now saddened because his wife (Thorne) divorced him. She didn’t want to raise a family, and the 32-year-old chooses to get cheered up by living temporarily with Uncle Carpo (Farina) in Manhattan while looking for his own swell digs.

The rest of this ensemble cast being interviewed, whose stories sometimes intermesh, include a busty Hispanic Manhattan elementary school teacher who is a cautious divorcée named Maria (Rosario Dawson). She lost her virginity to her Brooklyn husband Ben (Krumholtz), whom she divorced when he was cheating on her. She is now active sexually but without a steady. Ben is the boyish looking ingratiating twerp (the ideal Woody type for playing the Jewish nebbish) who shows up frequently in the hallway of her apartment building pleading his case of being hurt by the divorce, even though he was the one who asked for it. He is often seen in his unbecoming doorman’s uniform, and is trying unsuccessfully to woo her back while he works as a doorman and dreams of playing in a rock band. He pines for a more active sex life, while he’s back to doing what he did in high school — play the guitar and jerk off in the bathroom. Ashley (Brittany Murphy) is a waifish 19-year-old NYU student from Iowa, who works as a waitress, and is involved in an unsatisfactory relationship for the last six months with a 39-year-old married dentist who picked her up on the park bench. Griffen (Stanley Tucci) is Ashley’s dentist lover. He is this unbearable loveless and egocentric dentist who married the social conscience of the film, the WASPish real-estate agent Annie (Graham). The shrill 29-year-old had three affairs before marriage (that includes the one with Tucci) and dreams of an ideal love, but becomes disillusioned with her cheating and lying husband and ruefully ponders “We live in such a cushy society—no real threats, no real problems.” This was filmed obviously before 9/11.

Annie meets Tommy when she shows him some fancy apartments and contemplates having an affair with him, as she considers a divorce.

The relationship that develops between Tommy and Annie becomes the most optimistic one in the film. She’s an Upper East Sider, who says her Dutch family dates back to Revolutionary days — which makes her a real New Yorker. Tommy’s response to her elitism is to recite his family history: relatives as sandhogs and construction workers, a police officer father shot twice and a mother who is a nurse in a Harlem hospital. The response is contrived, but its point is well taken about the bridge-and-tunnel people who live in the outer boroughs being the genuine New Yorkers who gave their bodies and souls to the city. That’s what this film is trying to convey, and here is where it best gets that point across.

The rest of the film feels filled with irrelevant pathos, as we follow the romantic lives of these unhappy characters. Ben picks up Ashley in her coffee shop and wins her over by his persistence. Griffin freaks out when Ashley tells him she’s going out with a guy with a big dick and doesn’t want to see him anymore. Tommy meets Maria in a video store while renting “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” and goes down on her their first date and balls her without a condom on the second. But their relationship flounders when she avoids him, getting cold feet about having a steady bed partner. None of these relationships touched me, as all the characters were too thinly drawn and there seemed to be no reason for their attractions to each other.

The result is a rather thin film, with nothing memorable; but, it at least gives a rather realistic picture of modern romance rather than a Hollywood formula ‘happy ending.’ Well, speaking about remembering something about the film — the scene in Katz’s landmark deli is still on my mind, where one of the characters is wolfing down a pastrami sandwich which made my mouth water (leaving pleasant memories of living in NYC).

The film itself would have profited better with a more hard-hitting intellectually inclined director than Burns, someone who was more interested in his characters. Though the film gets by, it’s never that relevant. Burns’ charm is as a hunk actor, one of those real-life bridge-and-tunnel chaps who made it in the Big Apple and fell in love with the city. As a director, Burns is uninspiring.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”