While “Sidewalks” may not depict New Yorkers in the best light, it does express a love for and a fascination with New York like any good Woody Allen movie. The film uses the gimmicky mock-umentary style to eavesdrop on the interconnected love lives of nine New Yorkers who pause on the street to deliberate on love, sex and dating.
The streets themselves are the most likeable characters, featured noisily in the background. They bubble with life, and attractive life at that. As Stanley Tucci’s wonderfully sleazy dentist comments, “A walk to the deli can be very erotic.”
But it seems that the film’s vitality can’t make it past the doorman; as Burns’ anonymous filmmakers follow the characters into their homes and their lives, they appear increasingly superficial and immature. While they are attractive enough to merit initial interest, their talk about sex has none of the quietly parasitic neuroses of Woody Allen dialogue. And if the characters aren’t likeable, we can’t be expected to care about their respective obsessions.
That obsession is, in every single case, cheating. Apparently, everyone in New York City is a cheat– from your doorman to your dentist. Burns, striving for a conclusive theme, uses infidelity to connect the characters and give them something in common. When the characters display their vulnerabilities, revealing them to the camera as it zooms instantly to their sheepish faces, we do understand them and we even want to like them.
And some of the characters are indeed likeable, or at least amusing. Gorgeous Rosario Dawson has done a lot of growing up since “Josie and the Pussycats,” as has saccharin Brittany Murphy, who you may remember as charity project Tai from “Clueless.”
But the funniest and most enjoyable characters are the sleaziest, as is often the case when a film relies on sex humor. Although “Sidewalks” is decidedly more mature than its teen film counterparts, outside of sex, nothing in this film is likeable or funny. Starting the sleaze parade is Dennis Farina, the aging lady killer, with chest hair bursting from his unbuttoned shirt and getting tangled in gold chains and cheap cologne. Ladies, beware.
The two-timing Griffin (Tucci), who claims to have a “European outlook on marriage,” gets funnier with each idiotic move he makes and each perverse comment he mumbles. Leaving his 19-year-old lover’s apartment, he finds two girls making out in the elevator. He says just loud enough for them to hear, “This elevator is like Sodom and Gomorrah. You girls need a hand over there?”
Snippets of dialogue like these, particularly delivered by the expert Tucci, lighten a largely unfunny movie. Burns does have a way with words, as he demonstrated in “The Brothers McMullen.” “Sidewalks” maintains a quick and gossipy pace if only because of the mock-umentary format and sexy subject matter. But the dialogue doesn’t have that crackle; what should be rapid-fire just putters.
The script is often downright embarrassing — the audience feels like they’re walking in on something they were never meant to see. Uncomfortable moments linger heavily in the absence of humor. Strangely enough Burns seeks to emphasize this feeling with camera work. Cinematographer Frank Prinzi sneaks his quivering, jittery camera into apartments, intrusively peering at screaming faces.
In the end, the characters come to conclusions about love, sex and dating that we’ve all heard before. Burns maneuvers for an ultimate resolution and meaning that he never finds. The characters still seem isolated since they can’t connect with each other or the audience.
But perhaps this is what Burns wants us to discover about New York; however alienated people feel, they are actually connected by common worries. This message has never been more apparent than it is today. However callous it seems to say, “Sidewalks” benefits from timing. Though the film was pushed back from its original release date due to the attacks, America still likes New York more than usual, and that sentiment may boost the film.
“Sidewalks of New York” has its moments, and it has a talented group of actors, including Burns himself as one of the ensemble. But certainly something is wrong when the best part of the film is the background noise — the city streets, the World Trade Center in the skyline. While these elements remind us why we love New York, the characters remind us why we hate it.