The Films of Edward Burns
The Brothers McMullen
She's the One
No Looking Back
Sidewalks of New York
Ash Wednesday (March 22/03)
Ash Wednesday marks Ed Burns' latest film in his capacity as writer/director, and it's easily his weakest effort to date. Like No Looking Back, his 1998 drama, Ash Wednesday is clearly Burns' attempt to move away from romantic comedies - but, as that film already proved, Burns should probably stick to his comfort zone.
It's quite apparent that Ash Wednesday, which follows two brothers (Elijah Wood's Sean and Burns' Francis) as they attempt to protect one another from sketchy locals, is meant to come off as Burns' variation on Mean Streets. But unlike that Scorsese classic, Ash Wednesday is essentially devoid of interesting characters or even a halfway intriguing plot. We're just never given a palpable reason to care about any of these people; the only semi-intriguing character is Rosario Dawson's Grace Quinonez. Her struggle to accept the possible reappearance of Sean after a three-year absence - compounded by the fact that she's been sleeping with Francis - is just about the only compelling aspect of the film.
The biggest problem here is familiarity; there's nothing here that's entirely original or that hasn't already been done in countless other films (and better, at that). Though Burns has already proven he has a real knack for writing authentic dialogue, that's certainly not the case here. Presumably, his goal was to create a moody tale of redemption and violence - along the same lines as those classic thrillers from the '70s (he even hired David Shire, who won an Oscar for The Conversation, to do the score) - but it just doesn't work. Like James Gray's The Yards, the film's atmosphere is the most interesting thing about it; the dark and smoky look of the various haunts populated by the characters proves to be more intriguing than anything that's actually happening on screen. What Gray and Burns don't seem to realize (and what the directors of the '70s were all-too-aware of), it's easy enough to create an appropriate look for the film, but creating a story worth following and characters that are able to act independently of the plot is another thing entirely.
Looking for Kitty
Nice Guy Johnny (October 25/10)
An above average romantic comedy, Nice Guy Johnny follows the title character (Matt Bush's Johnny Rizzo) as he arrives in New York City to spend a pre-wedding weekend with his womanizing uncle (Edward Burns' Terry) - with trouble ensuing as Johnny is forced to reevaluate his relationship after he meets (and inevitably falls for) a free-spirited local (Kerry Bishé's Brooke). It's a testament to writer/director Burns' talent that the familiarity of the premise never becomes as problematic as one might've feared, as the filmmaker does a superb job of establishing the various characters and infusing the dialogue with an irresistibly authentic feel. There's little doubt, too, that it's the palpable chemistry between Johnny and Brooke that ultimately elevates the proceedings on an impressively consistent basis, with the strong work from both Bush and Bishé ensuring that the viewer can't help but root for their respective characters' coupling. (Of course, it doesn't hurt that Johnny's fiancée, Anna Wood's Claire, is almost comically wrong for him.) The winning performances, including Burns' scene-stealing turn as Johnny's fast-talking, philandering relative, effectively compensate for Burns' ongoing reliance on romcom clichés, with the predictably upbeat conclusion cementing Nice Guy Johnny's place as an engaging, consistently entertaining piece of work.