There's a monologue in writer/director Edward Burns' "Sidewalks of New York" that should stand out like a beacon of precognition. A 29-year-old real-estate agent named Annie Matthews declares her exasperation with a "cushy society" -- Manhattan's, but America's by extension -- that obsesses on sexual trivia in the absence of real problems or threats.
An infamous set of real problems and threats hit New York just in time to delay "Sidewalks'" planned September release. Yet, even in morbid hindsight, Annie's speech doesn't carry the told-you-so weight it should. It's never a good idea to waste a script's only philosophically sound dialogue on Heather Graham (who is simply awful in the part). Burns further undercuts the character by positioning her as a mere frumpish foil to five carnally adventurous New Yorkers whose destinies are -- you guessed it -- intertwined with hers.
They meet, they make fleeting connections and then they move on to other partners. In between, the members of this sexy sextet answer questions posed by an unseen interviewer. There's a lot of chatter about "getting laid," much of it coming from actors who deserve to be playing actual adults.
Almost no one comes off well -- not even Stanley Tucci, who struggles gamely in the one-dimensional role of a dentist with a "very European" (i.e., not monogamous) view of marriage. Burns is nearly invisible as the movie's supposed championship heart, a TV producer passing into the nesting stage of life but not above hitting on the married Annie shortly after he beds a tough-cookie schoolteacher (Rosario Dawson). Dennis Fari'a plays his mentor, an old-school Lothario whose swagger is relievedly unencumbered by the self-consciousness that afflicts every other character. The movie deserves more of him.
From its subject matter to its scripted format to its jerky hand-held-camera work and jump cuts, "Sidewalks" is an utter crib from Woody Allen's "Husbands and Wives." But, as this is Burns and not Allen, the talk is of penis size, not Kierkegaard. These are base, ugly people whose mating habits are both dreary and unrealistic. Burns to the contrary, most New Yorkers of the pre-Osama bin Laden era were not decadent enough to subject friends and strangers alike to unsolicited rundowns of their coital histories and genital-care rituals.
They talked about the Yankees instead.
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