- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 21, 2001

"Sidewalks of New York" is the first dud and disgrace perpetrated by Edward Burns, the young actor-writer-director who made a promising shoestring debut six years ago with "The Brothers McMullen." He was 27 then. He still seemed promising three years ago while playing one of the squad members in "Saving Private Ryan" for Steven Spielberg and while sustaining a melancholy love story in his third feature, "No Looking Back."

Something has gone totally haywire in the conception and execution of "Sidewalks," which caught a modest break when its original opening date of Sept. 21 was postponed in the wake of the terrorist attacks of September 11.

The connotations of the title, as of that momentous date, have completely trivialized the connotations Mr. Burns had in mind. His movie is preoccupied with the romantic vicissitudes of fickle New Yorkers involved in flirtations and infidelities. A sudden time warp and change of outlook has swallowed the hopelessly shallow material.

It's possible that admiration for Woody Allen led Mr. Burns astray. From time to time, "Sidewalks" resembles a maladroit update of such vintage Allen romantic comedies as "Annie Hall" and "Manhattan." One of the characters, a deceived Manhattan wife played by Heather Graham, is named Annie. Mr. Burns also adopts a crackpot semidocumentary presentation that recalls an annoying Allen tendency of the early 1990s, when he made a fetish of hand-held camera perspectives.

Mr. Burns' use of the device is so intrusive that some episodes are addressed directly to an unseen camera, as if in a man-on-the-street interview. At other times, the presence is not quite acknowledged, but you get the ridiculous impression the camera operator has been allowed to tag along wherever the courtships amble. That includes full voyeuristic privileges when couples retire to the bedroom.

Mr. Burns plays one of the principals, Ben, prematurely wealthy as the producer of a television sports program. Recently divorced, he becomes instantly intimate with Rosario Dawson as Maria, a schoolteacher not far removed from a misalliance of her own with a runty doorman named Tony, played by David Krumholtz.

Tony is now smitten with a barmaid, Ashley, played by my new unfavorite, Brittany Murphy, who seems to combine the worst tendencies of Meg Ryan and the erstwhile starlet Lori Petty.

Tony and Ashley are persuasively compatible cliches: little people and harmless knuckleheads. She is being importuned by an older lover who doesn't want to let go: Stanley Tucci as a lecherous dentist, Griffin, who seems to spend all his off-duty hours chasing Ashley or consorting with hookers.

Miss Graham's Annie is his initially unsuspecting spouse. She and Ben cross paths as well, but their future as a couple remains tentative.

A poignant loose end: Maria becomes pregnant as a result of her brief encounter with Ben but is too proud to mention the fact when they meet by chance after the affair has run its whirlwind course.

Mr. Burns makes all these tangles seem tedious and also futile as pretexts for further dramatic or comic exploitation.

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