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'Sidewalks of New York'

Crowded love lives

Friday, November 30, 2001

By Barry Paris, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Producer-director-writer-actor Edward Burns' theme with variations is clear from the opening documentary question, posed to a half-dozen men and women on the street: "When did you lose your virginity?"

These random guys and gals turn out to be not so random, and in their answers lie six intersecting tales that might've been titled "Crimes, Misdemeanors and Peccadillos."

 
 
'Sidewalks Of New York'

RATING: R for language and adult marital subjects

STARRING: Edward Burns, Heather Graham, Stanley Tucci

DIRECTOR: Edward Burns

Critic's call:

   
 

Peccadillos are unrelated to armadillos, though they're equally prickly. Armadillos can walk under water. Peccadillos are committed by humans who walk the "Sidewalks of New York."

Kicked out by his girlfriend, Tommy (played by Burns) is forced to seek shelter in the apartment of his middle-aged mentor Carpo (Dennis Farina), a satyric as well as satiric figure: "I've had sex with 500 women," he declares proudly, "and I left 'em all bayin' at the moon."

Tommy is less sure of himself, as evidenced by his trip to the video store and un-cool dispute there with pretty Maria (Rosario Dawson) over who gets to rent "Breakfast at Tiffany's." He ends up trading the "Tiffany" video for her phone number.

She was recently divorced from dorky doorman Ben (David Krumholtz), who wants to get back together with Maria even as he is shlemielishly drawn to Ashley (Brittany Murphy), a sexy waitress going nowhere fast in her affair with a married man.

That would be Griffin (Stanley Tucci), a slimy, prevaricating dentist, whose beautiful trophy wife Annie (Heather Graham) is a real-estate agent slowly getting wise to the cheater hubby and fast falling for the sweeter client, Tommy.

Talk about tangled webs. ...

As in the excellent "Brothers McMullen" (1995), Burns draws his characters with fine lines and supplies them with equally fine lines of dialogue.

"We had a beautiful marriage when I was eating well," Ben whines lamely to Maria. And then, to Ashley in her restaurant: "You're not from New York, are you?"

"I'm from Iowa," she affirms.

"I was in Atlanta once," he replies.

Bald, sinister Tucci is the best-worst of all, a cad who lives inside his lies and justifications. "Are you a model?" he asks Ashley by way of a come-on line in the park. "You have a look of the new millennium." Once she falls for him, his smooth tongue turns sharp -- especially on the subject of divorce: "You knew what you were getting into ... If you knew how much my first wife took from me -- the townhouse, and all -- it'd make you cry." Ashley eventually discovers his Achilles' heel, located about 3 feet higher up, which prompts a furious and fabulous hotel-room fight scene.

Idealistic Annie, meanwhile, can't understand why everybody talks about orgasms instead of love. She is splendidly portrayed by Graham, whose splendid performance in Robert Downey Jr.'s "Two Girls and a Guy" I still dream about.

In "Sidewalks of New York," one clearly detects the Woody Allen and postmodern Ingmar Bergman influences -- this is a kind of "Scenes from Non-Marriages." People fall in and out of love on those sidewalks, passing thousands of prospects every day. Driven by a search for passion and identity -- and the game itself -- they flirt and speculate about the opposite sex with equal profundity and stupidity.

"Is it love, sex, or the love of sex that [screws] us up?" asks one character.

"I'm Catholic," comes the reply, "so in my case, it's probably sex. You cheat because you're not in love anymore, not because you're not attracted anymore."

Multitalented Burns is nothing if not economical. His "Brothers McMullen," made for $25,000, grossed $10 million. "Sidewalks" was shot in an amazing 17 days, and speed is of its essence. Startling jump-frame splice edits increase the momentum and decrease its reliance on talking heads.

These particular talking heads are deliciously well-spoken, credible and headed for better-or-worse fates at six busy emotional intersections without a traffic light.

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