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Third-degree Burns

Review: 'Sidewalks' leads nowhere

By Paul Clinton
CNN Reviewer

(CNN) -- Actor, writer, and director Edward J. Burns, aka Ed Burns, has been compared to Woody Allen ad nauseam. There are some similarities between these two men --- they're both New York City filmmakers, for starters. But while Allen is pastrami on wry (albeit a little stale these days), Burns is baloney on white bread with mayo.

Burns, like Allen, is fascinated with the battle of the sexes and the quest for true love, and his new film, "Sidewalks of New York" follows that theme. The film is a serious of vignettes involving numerous Manhattan couples in various stages of falling apart and coming together.

Stanley Tucci plays Griffin, a sleazy dentist married to the sweet-natured Annie, played by Heather Graham. He's having an affair with a clueless girl named Ashley, played by Brittany Murphy. Burns plays Tommy, a successful television producer, who is seeing a sexy school teacher Maria, played by Rosario Dawson, who used to be married to Ben, a dumpy doorman played by David Krumholtz. But Tommy really wants to be with the aforementioned Annie.

Edward Burns writes, directs and stars in the new movie 'Sidewalks Of New York'

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They all weave in and out of each others lives dragging their individual neuroses with them. In the middle of them all stands Tommy, the only sane one among them. It's no surprise Burns plays that role. In his films he's always the well-adjusted stud, surrounded by losers and looking for love.

Derivative filmmaking

Burns and his cinematographer Frank Prinzi use lots of available light, hand-held cameras and few reversal shots in "Sidewalks." He claims he got the idea for filming this way after working with Steven Spielberg in "Saving Private Ryan" (1998).

However, it's also very similar to Allen's 1993 comedy "Husbands and Wives," which features all the above plus jump cuts and documentary-type confessionals delivered straight to the camera. In Allen's film this was interesting. In "Sidewalks" it comes off as a gimmick.

"Sidewalks of New York" doesn't break any new ground. Burns does write very believable dialogue, albeit laced with profanities. That's his greatest strength, and the dialogue in this film is not an exception.

His own weakness

Also no exception is the presence of Burns' greatest weakness -- Burns. In his films Burns' characters are (apparently unwittingly to Burns himself) arrogant, self-involved and smirky. In all his films -- which of course he writes -- he obviously thinks his characters are the most likable, best looking, and intelligent people on screen. Everyone else, especially all the men in his films, are unredeemable jerks.

Most filmmakers who write, direct and star in their films ultimately reveal much about themselves as people. Woody does this to an alarming degree. His self-examinations can be almost embarrassingly graphic. Burns, on the other hand, reveals nothing except a smug facade and an insufferable ego.

Overall, there are some amusing moments, and Graham makes the most of her thankless role, but this one can wait for the video release.

"Sidewalks Of New York" opens Wednesday, November 21, and is rated R with a running time of 107 minutes.


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