sidewalks of new york written and directed by Edward Burns, produced by Burns, Rick Yorn, Cathy Schulman and Margot Bridger, with Burns, Heather Graham, Stanley Tucci, Brittany Murphy and Rosario Dawson. 106 minutes. A Paramount Classics release. Opens Friday (November 30). For venues and times, see First-Run Movies, page 101. Rating: NNNyou'd think that someone with Ed Burns's eye for performance could look at the rushes and realize that his own emits a large sucking sound. In other people's films, notably Saving Private Ryan and 15 Minutes, he's played characters within a very specific range and type -- Irish-American Brooklyn guys. He can handle that. In his own films he's the romantic lead, and his limitations become painfully evident. Even worse, his exposure to better actors has led him to pick up moves from them -- in Sidewalks Of New York, he's added De Niro's head tilt to his repertoire.
Burns's latest arrives after a delay -- the distributor felt that, with the smoke of the World Trade Center still hanging over Manhattan, no one would want to see a romantic comedy set in New York.
The movie attempts a romance in the Woody Allen mode, poised halfway between Manhattan and Husbands And Wives, and Burns deserves praise for the impressive performances of Stanley Tucci as a philandering bastard, Heather Graham as his put-upon wife, Brittany Murphy as a waifish waitron and the stalwart character work of actors like Aida Turturro and Dennis Farina. Of course, these people are generally good in any context.
While these characters are working out their torturous romantic geometry, Burns arrives as the nice guy who's just been dumped and finds himself opposite Rosario Dawson (Josie And The Pussycats). She's a more beautiful version of Burns's ex, Maxine Bahns, who co-starred in his movies until he started dating Heather Graham, whom he sets up here as his Diane Keaton. (The Burns-Graham relationship was finished before the picture was.)
Burns tries to show what a terrific guy he is, and we wait for the real actors to return.
When they do, Sidewalks Of New York is watchable, particularly when Tucci's onscreen as a monster of rationalization. But the director has no real visual sense -- an area where Burns could really take a lesson or two from Woody Allen.