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In 'New York,' Wan Anecdotes For Urbanites

Swept Away: In a short directed by Brett Ratner, Olivia Thirlby and Anton Yelchin are paired together for an eventful prom date. All 10 shorts in New York, I Love You revolve around the pursuits of love and lust in the city. Vivendi Entertainment hide caption

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New York, I Love You

  • Director: Anthology; featuring Wen Jiang, Natalie Portman and Brett Ratner
  • Genre: Drama, Romance, Comedy
  • Running Time: 110 minutes

Rated R: Language, sexual content and sordid city life

With: Shia LaBeouf, Robin Wright Penn, Orlando Bloom, Julie Christie

Watch Clips

One Night Stand

Hotel Suite

Pickup Artist

Anthology films are a lumpy proposition under the best of circumstances. No matter how tantalizing the auteur lineup — be it Fellini-Malle-Vadim (Spirits Of The Dead) or Coppola-Scorsese-Allen (New York Stories) or even Rossellini-Godard-Pasolini-Gregoretti (RoGoPaG) — many or most of the directors are going to whiff. Audiences for anthology projects understand (or should understand, anyway) that when panning for gold, they're going to have to suffer a little silt. It comes with the territory.

New York, I Love You, the second installment of the "Cities of Love" series after Paris, je'taime, tries to break the rules by stressing continuity over individuality. Rather than patching together the usual wildly divergent variations on a theme, producer Emmanuel Benhiby has the foolish audacity to herd a motley collection of talents under the same umbrella and try to impose a single style on them. Each filmmaker was limited to two days' shooting and one week in the editing room, and none of the segments have titles or credits, so you have to wait until the end to find out which director was responsible for which minor catastrophe. On top of that, the glossy color scheme and jazzy music score have a certain Showtime After Dark uniformity, and some of the shorts bleed into each other, presumably in the effort to give the impression that it's all of a piece.

Despite Benhiby's best efforts to create one from many, the only thing the roughly 10-minute segments in New York, I Love You have in common are a general air of indifference. While it may be tempting to blame Benhiby's restrictions for stifling the filmmakers' creativity, nothing here suggests an irrepressible vision brought to heel. Half of the shorts are moony-eyed romances with quirky conceits — like a Dostoyevsky-themed meet-cute, or a pair of Coney Island oldies (Eli Wallach and Cloris Leachman) bickering through their 63rd anniversary — and the other half are either long lead-ups to lame punch lines or abstract reveries on art and love that aren't nearly abstract enough.

Isabelle (Julie Christie) and Jacob (Shia LaBeouf) are relative strangers thrown together by circumstance. "It's one of the things I love best about New York," says Isabelle. "Everyone is from somewhere else." Vivendi Entertainment hide caption

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Isabelle (Julie Christie) and Jacob (Shia LaBeouf) are relative strangers thrown together by circumstance. "It's one of the things I love best about New York," says Isabelle. "Everyone is from somewhere else."

Vivendi Entertainment

In the star-choked race to the bottom, a few segments stand out as particularly pungent: Brett Ratner, best known for popcorn entertainments like X-Men: The Last Stand and the Rush Hour movies, mines the premise of a teenager (Anton Yelchin) set up with a wheelchair-using prom date (Olivia Thirlby) for two jokes and one of the goofiest sex scenes in recent memory. (It involves a tree branch, a belt and some creative physics.) Chinese director Jiang Wen, who began the decade with the lacerating anti-war comedy Devils On The Doorstep, undertakes the impossible task of making Hayden Christensen look credible as a pickpocket, street-basketball ringer and all-around fedora-donning lowlife. Worst of show goes to Elizabeth director Shekhar Kapur (filling in for the late Anthony Minghella, to whom the omnibus is dedicated), who strands a luminous Julie Christie in what could be called the Metaphor Hotel, with Shia LeBeouf as a bellboy whose tortured gait and Eastern European accent make him a dead ringer for Igor in Young Frankenstein.

The most telling common denominator in New York, I Love You may be facial hair: Christensen, LeBeouf, Bradley Cooper, Orlando Bloom and Ethan Hawke are all scruffy and disheveled, as if they could barely rouse themselves out of bed for a day or two of shooting. At no point does the urgency of these shorts exceed the urgency of their need to shave.

Scott Tobias is the film editor of The A.V. Club.

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