Sidewalks of New York
dir. Edward Burns
Opens Wed Nov 21 at the Metro.

Ed Burns comes off as the most interesting guy in his fraternity. You remember the type: the sweet, friendly one who'd bum-rush you at parties, acting humble and puppy-doggish, excited to talk to a bona fide smart person. Beer in hand, perfect smile launched across perfect face, gorgeous adornment of a girlfriend in tow, he'd tell you about this great book called Ulysses, or how he'd discovered this super-cool filmmaker named Fellini, or how he'd been listening to the Clash over and over. And he'd be so happy about it, as if art was a breezy affair that you could be into in the same way you could be into watching leaves fall. You'd smile politely, and wish him the ill of the jealous, but a lot of what he said had merit, and that was troubling. Especially since, after his time with you, his "intellectual" friend, he'd spend the rest of the night being mauled by the prom queen.

In adulthood, guys like this were supposed to put away their arty weaknesses and become stockbrokers, but Burns became a filmmaker instead. Early work such as The Brothers McMullen and She's the One were stiff, but they had a polite altar-boy determination to do a good job. Though there wasn't an original moment in them, they were full of love and respect for the craft. Now, with Sidewalks of New York, the stiffness is gone, and Burns' own sensibilities are coming into focus.

Sidewalks concerns the love lives of a cross-section of attractive urbanites and shows off Burns' talent for combining tension and slapstick. He can coax humor out of some truly brutal situations involving betrayal, lies, and condescension, with characters right out of the Woody Allen playbook (just better-looking and better dressed). It doesn't hurt that he's got Stanley Tucci and Dennis Farina to go about giving acting clinics while the camera runs, or the Goldie Hawn-with-ADD energy of Brittany Murphy, but Sidewalks is Burns' triumph alone. The captain of the soccer team has begun to find his light, breezy cinematic groove.