It’s obvious that Edward Burns thinks he’s the Wonder Bread Woody Allen. Unfortunately, he’s more like a half-baked third-year film student who has mystifyingly been given a budget and a releasing company. The ultra-tedious Sidewalks of New York is, I suppose, Burns’ Husbands and Wives — minus real characters and much in the way of laughs. It does, however, duplicate that film’s most dubious (and easily copied) conceit by apparently being shot with the patented MTV shaky-cam. The idea is, of course, to give the movie the feeling of a documentary. Burns really needn’t have bothered, since the dialogue is so forced and leaden that it already makes the film seem like something you’re hard-pressed to believe was written and thought out beforehand. Ostensibly, Sidewalks of New York is a trenchant commentary on relationships with characters who speak (often in mock interview footage) Great Truths about the human condition. Burns’ Great Truths, unfortunately, are more suited to bumper stickers and all-night gabfests with people who once read a book by Camus. (The film would make a great double-feature with Richard Linklater’s Waking Life — a concept the Sominex people ought to look into.) There’s not a whole lot of plot to had. The film simply follows a group of dysfunctional New Yorkers in their search for meaningful relationships — or maybe it’s their avoidance of those relationships — occasionally pausing for them to address an unseen interviewer. The idea isn’t a bad one necessarily, but it falls into utter nothingness when the characters tend to be neither likable nor sympathetic, and that’s the central problem here. For that matter, the characters aren’t even interesting and, as a writer, Burns seems incapable of doing anything to give them much in the way of characterizations. What little he does manage to convey in this regard is strictly via bargain-basement Woody Allenisms. One character tries to impress a girl by picking out “essential” rock albums for her in a used record store — a clear pop-culture version of Woody Allen taking Diane Keaton to a book store. That might still have worked had the albums he chooses for her been in the least bit quirky or personal and added to his character, but they’re all strictly the choices of a musical dilettante, not a genuine enthusiast. Foisting a copy of Led Zeppelin I on someone with the accolade that it’s “probably the greatest debut album in the history of rock” only tells me that this is someone with a pretty simplistic approach to the form. Maybe that’s the point, but then that raises the question: Why do I want to see a movie about this person? The answer is that I don’t. And this holds true of the other characters as well. Oddly, the characters that best stand up to scrutiny are those that Burns doesn’t try to make sympathetic, especially Dennis Farina (who, among all the cast, comes off unscathed) as the ultimate loutish boor. Of the sympathetic — or would-be sympathetic — characters only Heather Graham registers, and that has more to do with the actress’s innate intelligence than anything the movie itself is offering her. There are a few funny moments in the course of the film — such as a particularly apt and almost quintessentially New York running gag in the interviews — but hardly enough to make sitting through the entire movie worthwhile.
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