Sidewalks Of New York

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Sidewalks Of New York (2001)

In retrospect, Woody Allen's raw, lacerating, and often startlingly personal 1993 comedy Husbands And Wives now seems like the last spasm of vitality in a career that has settled into routine, driven more by dull persistence of inertia than any urgent creative impulse. Writer-director-star Edward Burns, a shameless Allen disciple since his 1995 debut The Brothers McMullen, has more or less remade Husbands And Wives with Sidewalks Of New York, but he plays the notes while missing the music. Burns lifts the artificial devices Allen employed to make his film seem more probing and "real" (handheld cameras, jump cuts, documentary-style confessionals), but in service of the sort of trifle that his idol has been cranking out for the last eight years. Originally slated for late September and then pushed back two months after the World Trade Center attacks, Sidewalks Of New York already looks like a dated nostalgia piece for the old Manhattan, the one that could devote every waking thought to the petty minutiae of love and sex. Alternately winsome and smutty (the patented Burns formula), the film's daisy chain of modern lovers gives equal time to a mostly stellar cast. Always more assured as an actor than in other capacities, Burns stars as a would-be writer looking to rebound after a long-term relationship falls to pieces. At a video store, he locks eyes with Rosario Dawson over Breakfast At Tiffany's, but their dates are complicated by ex-husband David Krumholtz, who still pesters her regularly. As he finally starts to get the hint, Krumholtz turns his attention to young coffee-shop waitress Brittany Murphy, but she's tied up in a go-nowhere fling with married dentist Stanley Tucci. Things come full circle when Tucci's increasingly dissatisfied wife Heather Graham takes an interest in Burns, who seems better suited to her high romantic ideals. The one major distinction between Husbands And Wives and Sidewalks Of New York is that Burns treats himself far more kindly than the other characters, who are either naïve or desperate or conniving or some combination of the three. On one end of the spectrum, he's the sensitive and well-adjusted stud who wants a wife and family; on the other, Tucci the adulterer is reduced to such a pathetic middle-aged lech that even his member gets cut down to size. The uniformly strong performances, especially Murphy's infectious turn and a hilarious extended cameo by Dennis Farina, help smooth over Burns' distasteful mix of vanity and moralizing. For someone who writes, directs, and stars in his own work, Burns cannily avoids any self-examination. He's perfect; it's the rest of the world that needs to fall in line.

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