Much as beauty lies in the eye of the beholder, the question of whether an artistic work that's similar to a prior one is a case of paying homage to another or simply is ripping it off clearly isn't the easiest thing to discern or agree upon.
Such distinction not only depends on the views, attitudes and/or goals of the mentor/victim and the student/perpetrator, but also that of critics and general moviegoers who must decide for themselves. In keeping with the legal analogy, I will not present the evidence in the people vs. Edward Burns and his latest film, "Sidewalks of New York."
Set in the Big Apple, the film spins a tale of romantic hopes and woes of six interconnected characters who pursue, enter into and/or exit various relationships. It's shot - by cinematographer Frank Prinzi ("The Best Man," "No Looking Back") - in a shaky, handheld camera fashion, and contains both jump cuts and an unseen filmmaker who occasionally interviews the various characters in faux documentary style.
Overall, it's a generally well-made film (from an artistic sense) filled with interesting and engaging characters, good dialogue, and is notable for writer, director, producer and star Edward Burns appearing in it with now former lover Heather Graham who plays his onscreen love interest in the picture. That's all fine and dandy and the film is certainly good enough to entertain adult viewers who don't mind the profanity and nonstop and occasionally explicit sexual talk.
The "only" problem is a little Woody Allen film by the name of "Husbands and Wives." That 1992 picture is set in NYC and spins a tale of romantic hopes and woes of six interconnected characters who pursue, enter into and/or exit various relationships. It's shot in a shaky, handheld camera fashion, and contains both jump cuts and an unseen filmmaker who occasionally interviews the various characters in faux documentary style.
It's a well-made film- that earned two Oscar nominations -- filled with interesting and engaging characters, good dialogue, and is notable for writer, director and star Woody Allen appearing in it with then current but ultimately former lover Mia Farrow who played his onscreen love interest in the picture.
Any competent cinematic defense attorney would obviously argue that the two films' characters are different, as are the specific locales and the more abundant adult-oriented dialogue. Even so, if put on the stand, the writer, director and star of films such as "The Brothers McMullen," "She's the One" and "No Looking Back" might be hard pressed defending his picture. That's especially true when in the press kit he mentions being inspired by the likes of Fellini and of all things, Spielberg's "Saving Private Ryan" (for its in your face immediacy), but not Allen (as if anyone wouldn't catch the obvious similarities).
If viewers don't mind or can get over the lack of originality/borrowing/theft, the question stands about whether the picture will entertain them. For the most part - especially considering that few people actually saw Allen's film (although it generally feels and often plays like many of his others) - the answer should be yes.
The hexamerous plotline is fun with the lives of the six characters constantly crisscrossing. While that doesn't occur to the point of being confusing, at the same time it's not as imaginatively conceived or executed as some viewers might be expecting and/or hoping for, it certainly keeps the movie interesting and moving forward.
Generally speaking - pun intended - and notwithstanding the profanity and abundant sexual talk that gives the film something of a "Sex in the City" feel - the dialogue is well-written, perceptive and occasionally rather witty.
It certainly benefits the performers who all deliver terrific performances. Playing the Woody Allen part sans the neuroses and verbal stammering, Burns ("15 Minutes," "Saving Private Ryan") is good even if he's essentially just retreading the same old laid back and sardonic New Yorker attitude he's been plying for years (which I nevertheless happen to find entertaining).
Both Rosario Dawson ("Light It Up," "Down to You") and Heather Graham ("Bowfinger," "Boogie Nights") deliver good performances and make a step back in the right direction after the questionable career choices of appearing in "Josie and the Pussycats" and "Say It Isn't So" respectively.
Among the ladies, however, it's Brittany Murphy ("Don't Say a Word," "Clueless") who stands out as a young Iowan transplant who's torn between a sweet loser - perfectly played with the right tone and pacing by David Krumholtz ("The Mexican," "Slums of Beverly Hills") in a terrific performance - and her much older, adulterous lover played to perfection by Stanley Tucci ("America's Sweethearts," "Joe Gould's Secret").
Supporting performances from the likes of Aida Turturro ("Crocodile Dundee in Los Angles," HBO's "The Sopranos") and especially Dennis Farina ("Snatch," "Get Shorty") as a cocksure, self-admitted ladies man are all equally strong.
In the end, the film treads no new grounds in regards to "Husbands and Wives" or the overall man/woman thing it explores. It also doesn't really offer any new insights or revelations about love, sex, romance or commitment that we haven't seen countless times before, and suffers a bit from the handheld camera work and unnecessary jump cuts (didn't Burns read the reviews of Allen's film that complained about just that?).
Nevertheless, the engaging cast, their strong performances, and the well-written dialogue flowing from their mouths and Burns' fingers results in a fairly entertaining picture for adult audiences. Nothing spectacular or original but otherwise generally solid filmmaking, "Sidewalks of New York" rates as a 6.5 out of 10.