Sidewalks of New York (R) ★★

Review Date: November 29th, 2001

The story of six men and women falling in and out of love, Sidewalks of New York proves that dirty jokes, tasteless post-coital episodes and conversations about penis size do not a meaningful story make--if there ever was any doubt about that.


A far cry from Hollywood's romantic comedy formula, Sidewalks of New York is an interesting attempt to recreate the realities of love and sex on the screen as well as an effort by writer/director Edward Burns to emulate Woody Allen's Husbands and Wives. The narrative structure works in two ways: the camera creates a framework of documentary sequences that are being filmed as we watch; then it pries into the intimate lives of the characters. It's an interesting device, but there simply isn't much of a story here other than the intertwined, complicated tales of the six lovers. Instead of simplifying the story and giving the disparate elements some cohesiveness, the structure that worked for Allen simply throws this movie into chaos. And that's too bad. The script had a lot of potential: there are some truly funny scenes and some laugh-out-loud one liners. Unfortunately, instead of making a point about love, it buries itself in pithy dialogue that's funny in the moment but doesn't stick in any meaningful way.


Sidewalks of New York's salvation really comes from its stellar cast, who make the most of the good dialogue and do their best with the bad. For some, the movie is a great opportunity to perfect a role they've played before. Dennis Farina is slick and sleazy as usual as Tommy's mentor, Carpo, while Burns' Tommy is typical Burns, a shallow/deep charmer with a chip on his shoulder. Other characters are a bit fresher. Brittany Murphy as Ashley, a 19-year-old waitress having an affair with Griffin (Stanley Tucci), gives the film a real spark, especially during her scenes with Tucci. Tucci's the life of the movie and gives the best performance of the bunch, even if his character is a complete jerk. Heather Graham as Annie, Griffin's wife, makes a refreshing change from Graham's previous characters; she takes her cue from Tucci and plays Annie with understated grace. David Krumholtz is cute and cuddly as the doorman-cum-musician Benjamin, but Rosario Dawson's Maria, the sixth-grade teacher Tommy dates at first, is a bit canned--although it's better than her turn in Josie and the Pussycats.


Edward, Edward, Edward. He used to be such a nice boy, but delving deeply into sex and love brings out the absolute worst in him. Granted, Burns' The Brothers McMullen undertook similar probing, but it stopped short of being crass (this film, on many occasions, doesn't). The characters were remarkably real and human in Brothers. Here, the characters lack that humanity as well as the innocence that made the brothers so appealing. It's not the fault of the actors, either; the film's overall perspective just seems cold and detached. The jumpy camerawork that's such a marker of Burns' direction has some relevance given the documentary structure, but since the structure is never really explained it doesn't add anything, it's just pat and distancing. When you're continually reminded of the camera's presence nothing on the screen seems real. It may be that in emulating Allen's form, the film loses something of its own identity. And in his effort to create a real ''New Yorker's'' movie--and to say something vital and intelligent about love and relationships--Burns forgets to care about the story and the characters.

Bottom Line

Sidewalks of New York is likeable enough in a shallow sort of way, but its attempts to plumb the depths of love and sex barely skim the surface.