A revved-up writer (Ethan Hawke) improvises a mad rap for a beautiful stranger in the night (Maggie Q), only to learn she's uniquely immune to his come-on. Meanwhile, in a downtown bar, a sardonic professor (Andy Garcia) teaches some new tricks to an over-confident young thief (Hayden Christenson). And a geeky student (Anton Yelchin), dumped by his girlfriend (Blake Lively), winds up squiring a disabled blind date (Olivia Thirlby) to a big dance in her wheelchair — and then gets a wild surprise while rolling her back home.
The new mini-movie collection "New York, I Love You" has some cleverly turned stories and lively performances. But unlike its 2006 predecessor, "Paris, I Love You," it displays only an intermittent affinity for its target metropolis on the part of the 11 directors who weighed in on it. And where the first installment of this projected series (next stops: Shanghai, Rio and ... Jerusalem?) gave off integral wafts of Parisian atmosphere, some of the tales told in "New York" might with minor adjustments have been set anywhere. The big city, from Times Square and TriBeCa to Chinatown and Brighton Beach, is often just background.
Surprisingly, Israeli director Yvan Attal and hardcore Hollywoodian Brett Ratner come up with the surest takes on Manhattan randomness. Ratner, in his episode with Yelchin and Thirlby (and James Caan, too), also manages to work in a big scene at the glittery Tavern on the Green without going totally touristy. And Attal, who wrote his own segment, not only gets an expert performance from Hawke (who doesn't, really?), he also folds in a quirky pas de deux with Robin Wright Penn and Chris Cooper that's strikingly perceptive about the mysteries of romance.
The rest of the picture isn't up to the standard of these two tightly-structured entries. The Garcia-Christenson story is too thin to sustain its meandering structure; the one featuring Orlando Bloom as a composer of commercial ditties (and Christina Ricci as the little hottie who wants to help unblock his creative flow) falls flat; and the episode built around Julie Christie as a suicidal opera singer, Shia LaBeouf as a crippled Slavic bellboy (!) and John Hurt as a waiter (!!) is too off-the-wall to merit interest. And the segment involving a grizzled Turkish painter (Ugur Yücel) obsessed with a young Chinatown herbalist (Qi Shu) is strictly naptime.
Natalie Portman doesn't have much luck here, either. She stars in the droopy tale of an Orthodox Jewish bride-to-be who falls into an ambiguous rapport with an Indian diamond merchant (Irrfan Khan); and she directed the wispy study of a young dancer (Cesar De León) who works as a male nanny for well-to-do moms — an interlude that goes nowhere at unwarranted length.
Any longtime Gothamite might have come up with New York stories more emblematic than the marginal ones offered here. The outsiders' views that worked so well in "Paris, I Love You" (with its evocative fantasies by Wes Craven, Alfonso Cuarón and the Coen brothers) fail to capture New York's more clamorous magic.
Check out everything we've got on "New York, I Love You."
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