- The Washington Times - Friday, October 16, 2009

Which city is the greatest in the world? New York, Paris, London, Rome, Berlin — they’ve all inspired many celluloid fantasies. If “New York, I Love You,” the latest contribution to the genre, is any indication, though, Paris has an edge over New York.

“Paris, je t’aime,” a charming collection of short films released in 2006, was a fitting love letter to the City of Light. “New York, I Love You,” from the same producers, is more uneven and less memorable. Yet its best segments do offer a lovely tribute to America’s greatest city and remind us how much romance is be to found amidst the ambition, the bustle and the dirt.

Unlike in “Paris, je t’aime,” the films of “New York, I Love You” are often intertwined, with stories told in segments. Allen Hughes’ opening film finds Bradley Cooper (Gus) in a cab, on his way to meet Lydia (Drea de Matteo). They’ve met before, but just once. They certainly got to know each other, though.

“That was beyond sexy,” Gus recalls to himself, likening the experience to being in a “Bertolucci movie.” We hear what Lydia’s thinking, too, and the disconnection between these two briefly connected people offers some high drama before they even re-connect. It helps that both actors really are beyond sexy.

Mira Nair’s segment, the first we see almost in full, is a bit disappointing. Natalie Portman — who also directs a sparkling segment of her own — plays a Hasidic woman doing a bit of business in the diamond district right before her marriage. She shares some interesting conversation with the Jain man (Irrfan Khan) she’s haggling with: “The Christians eat everything,” she says in a sentence loaded with meaning after they talk about their own religions’ strictures. Yet the potential devolves into farcical fantasy.

Ethan Hawke, in a hilarious film by Yvan Attal, wears priceless expressions, while Olivia Thirlby is also memorable in a segment by Brett Ratner that veers between the clever and the vulgar. Smart and funny is Shunji Iwai’s film, in which a knotty director forces the composer played by Orlando Bloom to read “Crime and Punishment” and “The Brothers Karamazov” — yet he’s simply scoring a cartoon.

Most moving might be the segment directed by Shekhar Kapur, who took over when its writer, Anthony Minghella, died. Julie Christie is still one of the most elegant women on-screen; she plays an aging opera singer whose reflections aren’t what they seem.

There are plenty of surprises here; the short form seems to encourage twists. The best comes in Yvan Atta’s film. Chris Cooper and Robin Wright Penn are two attractive people chatting outside a restaurant while both escape for cigarettes. This taut tale, unlike many of the other segments, has it all — inventive dialogue, a satisfying ending and performances from two underrated actors who charm us as much as they charm each other.

TITLE: “New York, I Love You”
RATING: R (language and sexual content)
CREDITS: Written and directed by various.
RUNNING TIME: 103 minutes
WEB SITE: newyorkiloveyouthemovie.com

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