Sidewalks of New York (15)

Review by Jack Foley

ED BURNS may now be better known for roles in high profile movies such as Saving Private Ryan and the more recent 15 Minutes (in which he starred alongside Robert De Niro), but, as his latest movie proves, there is far more to him than mere acting.

The Sidewalks of New York has been written, produced and directed by Burns (as well as starring) and marks a return to the type of form which first brought him to attention with the likes of The Brothers McMullen and She's The One.

That is to say, it's a thoughtful, provocative and frequently amusing tale about how people fall in and out of love in a city as big as New York, though ultimately inconsequential.

Featuring a terrific cast, including Dennis Farina, Stanley Tucci and Heather Graham, it is the type of movie that is almost certain to provoke a debate between the sexes after it has finished and one which, no doubt, contains at least one pertinent moment for each viewer.

Burns heads the cast as Tommy, a successful `bridge-and-tunnel' guy who yearns for nothing more than stability in a relationship. After breaking up with his long-time girlfriend, Tommy ventures tentatively back into the dating world, where he meets Rosario Dawson's spirited Italian Puerto-Rican, Maria, who teaches at an upscale grammar school, and Graham's real estate agent Annie, who is starting to suspect her husband (Tucci) of having an affair.

Serving as Tommy's mentor, meanwhile, is the sublime Farina, whose seasoned seducer, Carpo, readily confesses to having bedded 500 women and who provides the majority of the movie's funniest moments - in one glorious moment he attempts to chat up a woman with the legendary phrase, 'do you want to sit up on the porch with the pup, or run in the yard with the big dog?'.

Also along for the ride is David Krumholtz's down at heel musician doorman, Benjamin, who starts off by seeking a reunion with the aforementioned Maria, but who ends up falling hopelessly in love with Brittany Murphy's spirited waitress, Ashley, who, in turn, is having an affair with Tucci's arrogant dentist.

If there is a criticism of Burns' movie, it's that there are simply too many characters to develop fully, which means that certain favourites aren't afforded as much screen time as they should be. Farina, in particular, is criminally under-used, while Dawson's Maria drifts out of proceedings for too long during the movie's middle section.

Burns, though, is always good value when on screen, as is Krumholtz's smitten Benjamin, who manages to transform his character from an irritating stalker into someone quite likeable by the movie's conclusion.

And while Tucci and Graham are as good as we have long come to expect in their respective roles (even if they make an unlikely couple), others, such as Murphy (right, of Don't Say A Word fame) and Dawson, offer promising signs for the future.

The Sidewalks of New York further benefits from a strong script and some wry observations about the nature of relationships, all of which should appeal to the more discerning viewer.

At a time when the majority of American movies seem pre-occupied with teen angst and gross out relationship gags, it is refreshing to find something a little meatier on the subject, that provides some food for thought.

It won't appeal to all tastes (and will, no doubt, be too slow for some) but as an intelligent insight into life, love and grown-ups, it certainly has our recommendation.