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Hits and misses make up ‘N.Y., I Love You’

The film is a curiously bland hodgepodge — not terribly evocative of such a famous place, and not all that inspiring in the connections it depicts.
/ Source: The Associated Press

The title is “New York, I Love You,” and it’s a collection of shorts intended as one big love letter to the city and all the romance it has to offer.

The result is a curiously bland hodgepodge — not terribly evocative of such a famous place, and not all that inspiring in the connections it depicts.

Following 2007’s “Paris Je T’Aime,” this is the second in a planned series of “Cities of Love” films. Each features a group of eclectic directors and well-known actors coming together to concoct brief clips; Rio, Shanghai, Jerusalem and Mumbai are next.

Inherently with such a structure, you’re going to have hits and misses. Not all the segments are going to work for every viewer. But whereas “Paris Je T’Aime” had a healthy number of hits, “New York, I Love You” is the unfortunate opposite.

The challenge presented to filmmakers was intriguing, too: Each of them had two days to shoot, then a week to edit. Each short had to take place in an identifiable New York neighborhood. And each had to involve some kind of love encounter.

Except for Shekhar Kapur’s entry, with its dreamy, ethereal light, nearly everything in “New York, I Love You” has a dark, gritty sameness that feels smothering. Aside from references to Central Park and the Dakota building and restaurants like Balthazar and Pastis, “New York, I Love You” could take place in any bustling, densely populated metropolis. Transitions between the pieces are intended to tie them together as a cohesive whole — a character from one interacts with a character from another — but they don’t add much, either.

Things begin inauspiciously with Jiang Wen’s short set in Chinatown. Hayden Christensen plays a pickpocket who follows a beautiful girl (his “Jumper” co-star Rachel Bilson) into a bar. Soon he finds himself in a battle of wits with her much older boyfriend (Andy Garcia). Both men light cigarettes in the bar — which has been against the law for years in New York City — injecting a distracting feeling of inauthenticity from the start.

Natalie Portman and Irrfan Khan enjoy some sparks in Mira Nair’s contribution (and Portman herself directs a later piece). She plays a Hasidic Jew about to get married; he plays an Indian Jain who owns a jewelry store in Midtown’s diamond district. As they haggle over a stone, they also teasingly one-up each other about their religions and find an unlikely shared admiration.

Brett Ratner’s segment offers a rare slice of dark humor. Anton Yelchin plays a high school senior with no date for the prom. The neighborhood pharmacist (James Caan) coaxes him into taking his daughter (Olivia Thirlby), who’s in a wheelchair. There’s nothing mawkish about it, and it doesn’t go where you might expect.

One of two entries from Yvan Attal has a twist that you will see coming, but it features strong performances from Chris Cooper and Robin Wright Penn as a man and a woman who meet and flirt outside a restaurant. But then Shunji Iwai’s piece featuring two more strangers (Orlando Bloom and Christina Ricci) who talk on the telephone is boring and goes nowhere.

The Kapur piece is pretty, of course, as you’d expect from the director of “Elizabeth.” But it’s bafflingly pretentious and features an odd pairing of Julie Christie as an opera singer and Shia LaBeouf as the handicapped bellhop who serves her at an elegant hotel. (The late Anthony Minghella wrote this one and was supposed to direct it before he died; the whole film is dedicated to him.)

At least “New York, I Love You” ends well with perhaps the strongest piece from director Joshua Marston. Eli Wallach and Cloris Leachman play a longtime married couple who bicker while walking through Brighton Beach. It may seem shticky but these two veterans are adorable together — and it’s the only segment that convincingly reflects the possibility of true and enduring love.