If you came across Edward Burns's Sidewalks of New York on cable TV and didn't recognize any of the actors, chances are you'd assume it was part of MTV's massive reality-TV franchise: Handheld cameras follow the protagonists around in their daily routines (during the course of which they try to find love and little else), and in between, we get confessional interviews to the camera. If it isn't The Real World, then surely it must be Road Rules. Or Tough Enough. Or Unzipped (not technically a reality show but shot like one). Or that new dating show where the contestant dismisses one of his or her two dates at the end of the night. Too bad it isn't quite funny enough to be mistaken for Jackass.
Which isn't to say it's a bad film, per se. The acting is fine, and the characters are believable. It simply brings nothing new to the table and thus has little reason to exist beyond writer-director Burns's desire to make a film because he can. Tommy (Burns, doing his standard Ben Affleck-with-actual-talent routine), having been kicked out by his girlfriend and moved in with aging lothario Carpo (Dennis Farina, stealing the show), sleeps with schoolteacher Maria (Rosario Dawson), whose ex-husband is an aggressively nerdy yet sensitive doorman-musician named Ben (David Krumholtz). When Ben isn't trying to win back his ex-wife, he's hitting on pretty waitress Ashley (Brittany Murphy), who's having an unhappy affair with married dentist Griffin (Stanley Tucci), a pompous type who ends every question with "or...?" Griffin's wife is Annie (Heather Graham), who happens to be the real-estate agent who shows Tommy around a vacant apartment, where they bond over an argument about what constitutes a real New Yorker, thereby kicking off a chemistry that just has to be right, especially since Graham and Burns dated in real life.
The performers do as well as they can with the thin material, ultimately fashioning what should make for a great audition tape for something else. Particularly noteworthy is Farina, in the one role that's pure comic relief, loudly advocating the application of cologne to the scrotum and boasting that he left 500 women "baying at the moon." The elfin Murphy, meanwhile, having previously shone in either supporting or psychotic roles (or both, as in Prophecy II), gets to play straight leading lady here, and she does so with aplomb while also giving Leelee Sobieski some competition for cinematic omnipresence.
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