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‘Naked in New York’ (R)

By Rita Kempley
Washington Post Staff Writer
May 13, 1994

"Naked in New York" is a thin slice of Big Apple pie dished out by Dan Algrant, a protege of executive producer Martin Scorsese. While you might expect Algrant to pay homage to his patron, the imitative new director mostly draws his inspiration from Manhattan memorialist Woody Allen. Set in the city and its environs, the movie stars a four-eyed, stringy-haired Eric Stoltz as Jake, a Jewish neurotic in a difficult relationship with WASPy naif Joanne (Mary-Louise Parker). But Jake and Joanne are Alvy Singer and Annie Hall with none of their humor or insights.

Conceived as a film school project, Algrant's tale of college romance has little depth. Its conclusions -- despite Stoltz's geeky efforts to disguise their insipidity -- belong on T-shirts: "Things just happen. ... No matter what, everything's going to be all right." Guess Algrant hasn't gotten up to "Life's a bitch and then you die."

But then Algrant's got a pretty good life, and since his story is semi-autobiographical, so does the artistically self-absorbed Jake. A recent college graduate who prides himself on his quirky sensibilities, Jake is about to have his first play produced off-Broadway by Tony Curtis. Meanwhile, Joanne's career as a photographer of poor people is about to take off. ("They are just so amazing," she says of her subjects.) Success puts a strain on the wan romance that had flourished throughout college.

In finding their way to the top, the two attend cocktail parties featuring such arcane celebrity props as Quentin Crisp, Eric Bogosian, Ariel Dorfman, Marsha Norman and William Styron. Jake stammers and twitches in awe. At one soiree, Jake's sexual magnetism -- which approximates that of a wilted celery stalk -- draws amorous advances from his best friend (Ralph Macchio) and an aging Broadway diva (Kathleen Turner). As for Joanne, she becomes involved with a gallery owner (Timothy Dalton) who admires her mediocre photographs.

Between scenes, Jake chats with the camera about his wacky childhood with Mom (Jill Clayburgh) and her nutty pals. Later on in the story, he begins to suffer -- we more than he -- from a series of Fellini-style hallucinations. Mostly he sees his friends and relations pass by in flashy vintage convertibles, though there is this talking baboon in a traveling circus at a rest stop.

Of course, Algrant is not the first beginning filmmaker to ape his betters. That tack is acceptable, sometimes even laudable, but only if the novice gives something of himself too. Far from baring his soul, Algrant has draped himself in the conventions of his craft and the parochialism of his city. The only one "Naked in New York" is Eric Stoltz, who seems determined to prove once and for all that he is a true redhead. Not a pretty sight.

"Naked in New York" is rated R for sexual situations.

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