With the millions of folks who live in the Big Apple, it is astonishing that "Sidewalks of New York" writer-director Edward Burns has managed to find the five or six least engaging people to waste 107 minutes on. After his enjoyable debut with "The Brothers McMullen," Burns seems to have forgotten everything that made his first film memorable (likable characters and snappy dialogue) and inadvertently winds up insulting the title city.
Burns gets off to an inauspicious start by featuring the leads answering an unseen interviewer's questions about their first sexual encounters. These talking-head sequences run throughout the film and ultimately tell us nothing of interest about the respondents. One is a doorman named Ben (David Krumholtz), who has just divorced his schoolteacher wife Maria (Rosario Dawson). He is nursing a crush on a pretty coffee shop waitress (Brittany Murphy, "Don't Say a Word") who is having an affair with a self-absorbed married dentist named Griffin (Stanley Tucci).
Also figuring into these matters is Tommy (Burns), a frustrated TV producer. Tommy has to find a new place to live now that his longtime girlfriend has kicked him out. His harried life of assisting the show's boorish host (Dennis Farina) becomes even more complicated when he starts dating Maria and flirting with a real estate agent named Annie (Heather Graham, "From Hell").
Because Annie is married to the reprehensible Griffin, the assumption is that Burns wants the audience to root for her to be matched with Tommy. Instead, the story winds up generating only indifference and later irritation. Nothing that happens between any of these people surprises or feels real enough to make these individuals worthy of attention beyond a New York minute.
For example, Tommy is frustrated with his superficial gig and really longs to get his writing career off the ground while Ben is an aspiring rock and roller (we even get to hear his bland tune about the waitress). These folks might have been intriguing if they had something worthwhile to say with their "art" or at least their conversation.
Griffin could have been fascinating if Burns had written him with some slyness and charm. When he meets the waitress, he asks her if she's a model. If the words actually coming out of his mouth were classy or clever, we might at least find his lechery intriguing. Instead, the gifted Tucci is reduced to playing a one-note heel.
Burns seems to have exhausted his supply of bon mots in "The Brothers McMullen." What we get instead are a series of groan-inducing quips about penis size. In the former flick, Burns created a believable blue-collar world. In moving from Brooklyn to Manhattan, he trades observation for clich.
Ironically, Burns' use of jump cuts and handheld camerawork only seem to magnify the artificiality of his story. While it is interesting to see bystanders flip off the lens during the monologues, Burns' attempt at cinma vrit winds up unpleasantly reminding a viewer of Woody Allen movies. By aping Allen's technique and using his turf, Burns invites or begs for comparison.
Even in the least inspired movies the Woodman has made, there are at least one or two choice wisecracks that remind us of how he got to be popular in the first place. "Sidewalks of New York," however, is loaded with long whiny arguments. In fact, for a film that's dubbed a romantic comedy, "Sidewalks of New York" seems a curiously joyless experience. None of these characters seems to appreciate love, sex or each other.
As a result, it's hard to love them. And after all the misery New Yorkers have had to endure lately, the last thing they need is a dull, shallow flick that doesn't live up to the city's good name.