Wednesday, November 21, 2001

Sidewalks of New York

Posted By on Wed, Nov 21, 2001 at 12:00 AM

A New York story, a motley brew of more-or-less neurotic friends and lovers snared in an understated romantic comedy plot line, Sidewalks of New York could be a poor man’s version of a Woody Allen movie.

Well ... maybe not quite a poor man’s. The titular sidewalks run as far uptown as Allen’s kingdom, the upper East Side of Manhattan (think of it as New York City’s Grosse Pointe) where Annie (Heather Graham, From Hell) is a pedigreed resident. But her husband of six years, Bronx-born Griffin (Stanley Tucci, America’s Sweethearts), a dentist (and amateur philanderer), goes downtown to Greenwich Village to entertain himself with a 19-year-old college nymphet and waitress fresh from Iowa, Ashley (Brittany Murphy, the “I’ll never tell” girl of Don’t Say a Word ).

Ashley has a suitor, though. Like Allen and the roles he plays, Benjamin (David Krumholtz, 10 Things I Hate About You) was born a Jewish Brooklynite. But Benjamin’s more a working-class zero (an uptown doorman by day and rock star-wannabe by night) than any character in Allen’s geeky gallery. He woos Ashley with his puppy-dog charm — when he’s not hounding his ex-wife Maria (Rosario Dawson, Josie and the Pussycats).

Half-Italian, half-Puerto Rican and all Staten Islander, Maria seems content just teaching her sixth graders until she meets Tommy (writer and director Edward Burns, She’s the One). But Tommy’s romantic options are open. Even though he proudly calls himself a “bridge and tunnel” guy from Queens, he’s made good on the other side of the East River as a TV producer — and he might make some time with his uptown-girl real-estate agent Annie as well.

Burns has plotted a cinematic rondo. He couples ordinary characters from different slices (and boroughs) of Big Apple life, elegantly waltzes them around each other in a pas de sex, and frames his fiction as a documentary (as Allen did with Zelig in 1982).

You could think of Sidewalks of New York as Allen’s Hannah and Her Sisters (1986) turned inside out. In Allen’s film, the elegance is in the setting: the world of one of Broadway’s royal families. He saves most of his complexity for his three women and the men who love them, not the plot. Perhaps it’s this (not Allen’s tendency toward the highbrow) that makes Hannah a classic — and Sidewalks little more than an interestingly well-made and fabulous soap opera.

Visit the official Sidewalks of New York Web site at paramountclassics.com/sidewalks.com.

E-mail James Keith La Croix at letters@metrotimes.com.

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