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MOVIE REVIEW

New York, I Love You

This time, it’s the city that makes you sleep

Julie Christie and Shia LaBeouf (above) and Natalie Portman appear in “New York, I Love You,’’ a compilation of short episodes. Julie Christie and Shia LaBeouf (above) and Natalie Portman appear in “New York, I Love You,’’ a compilation of short episodes.
(Photos By Vivendi Entertainment via Associated Press
)
By Wesley Morris
Globe Staff / October 16, 2009

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‘New York, I Love You’’ wants us to know that the city is a sexy, romantic, thrillingly random place where anything can go down. Sadly, two of those things are your eyelids.

The diverse assortment of talented men and women who’ve been dispatched to write and direct segments of this desultory project return with news of wise young hookers and cranky old Jews, stalkers and loners, virgins, painters, and Shia LaBeouf with a watery Russian accent. Every tale contorts into a punch line, none of which is as surprising or moving as the filmmakers assume.

The movie begins with a “Hey, I was here first’’ cab ride. Entering on the left is Bradley Cooper and on the right, Justin Bartha. They just played buddies in “The Hangover.’’ Now they’re strangers. But the recognition in Cooper’s eyes makes the whole encounter feel like a stunt. It also sets a tone of pointlessness. Not much later, there’s Julie Christie and LaBeouf in an episode directed by Shekhar Kapur (who made both “Elizabeth’’ movies) and written by the late Anthony Minghella, to whom the entire film has been dedicated. Christie and LaBeouf interact in a large white hotel room. He’s the limping Russian bellhop; she’s just her ethereal self. He does all the work and most of the talking. Until he makes a dramatic exit, she rightly ignores him.

Just in the last 10 years, New York has received more exuberant valentines from the horny, besotted, and fake-ID-wielding (“200 Cigarettes’’ and “Nick and Nora’s Infinite Playlist’’ are two that come to mind). This collection also places a premium on kids - Natalie Portman, Christina Ricci, Hayden Christensen, Anton Yelchin, Olivia Thirlby, Eva Amurri, Shu Qi, Rachel Bilson, and Orlando Bloom also show up. But it feels like a business imperative: “We need to sell this thing, OK?’’ This would barely be worth mentioning except that the movie, while populated with exciting young people, misses the natural kick of youth.

Representing the other side of 35, Robin Wright Penn tries to pick up Chris Cooper outside a bar, and it might have been even sexier had we not seen a charmingly overcaffeinated Ethan Hawke do the same to Maggie Q 30 minutes earlier. He’s 38 now and is easily the most vibrant thing in the movie.

There are no gays or people of color who don’t drive a taxi, sell their bodies, or provide a service of some kind. The entry that Portman directs, about a little blond girl and her Brazilian caretaker, highlights the movie’s blind spot by trying to trick us into seeing a racial and socio-economic problem where ultimately none exists.

The assorted directors here include Mira Nair, an Indian who lives in New York; Fatih Akin, a German of Turkish stock; Allen Hughes, an Armenian- and African-American who grew up in Detroit; Joshua Marston, an American whose first movie, “Maria Full of Grace,’’ gave us a Columbian drug mule on her way to the United States, and Yvan Attal, a Frenchman who on a bad day can turn romance into an episode of “Sesame Street.’’ How could so ethnically and artistically diverse a field of filmmakers produce a work of such lifeless uniformity?

This wasn’t so with the movie’s predecessor, “Paris, je t’aime,’’ which was imaginatively, if exhaustively, broken into discrete chapters in which the city’s neighborhoods set the mood. That was the Paris of the filmmakers’ whimsy - trivial sometimes, touristy others, inspired, and artistic even in the weaker segments. This time the entire project has one editor and one cinematographer. If that ensures consistency, it also results in a homogenization of vision.

Aside from a sitcom-sweet excursion to Coney Island, a morose trip to Chinatown, and some embarrassingly dropped names (“Balthazar for dinner then Pastis for dessert?’’ Gag.), it’s hard even to know where we are. If this is New York, I’d need the GPS coordinates to know for sure.

Wesley Morris can be reached at wmorris@globe.com. For more on movies, go to www.boston.com/movienation.

NEW YORK, I LOVE YOU

Starring: Bradley Cooper,

Natalie Portman, Andy Garcia, Hayden Christensen, Ethan Hawke, Maggie Q, Julie Christie, Shia LaBeouf, Chris Cooper, and Robin Wright Penn

At: Boston Common,

Kendall Square, West

Dedham, and Embassy

Running time: 110 minutes

Rated: R (language

and sexual content)

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