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"Naked in New York" Clothes Bland Fare in Faux Zaniness

By Edith Replogle


Naked in New York

directed by Dan Algrant

starring Kathleen Turner, Timothy Dalton and Ralph Macchio

at Loews Harvard Square

"I don't need any of your Ivy League bullshit!" screams the producer to the play-wright, making the only real reference to the fact that the self-absorbed, whiny couple featured in Dan Algrant's latest film, "Naked in New York," is a product of, you guessed it--Harvard University. Oh yes, the producer (Tony Curtis) also finds an opportunity to ask why Jake (Eric Stoltz), the persecuted playwright, "has his ass in Cambridge instead of my office!" Poor Harvard is suffering a two-pronged movie attack from former student Alek Keshishian '83's latest depiction in "With Honors," and now from this movie.

The plot of "Naked in New York" is quite simple. Jake meets Joanne (Mary-Louise Parker) at Harvard; they have problems after graduation because they want to pursue their won careers. Oh, and they're artsy: he writes plays; she takes pictures. They both have so much artistic fervor, in fact, that Jake disses Joanne to work with a slimy producer and a soap-opera star in New York, while Joanne disses Jake to chase a wheeler-dealer gallery owner around the country in his private jet.

Jake narrates the movie in a self-conscious, confessional tone while driving a BMW and wearing a yuppie suit. His monologue, filled with whiny rationalizations for his non-committal lifestyle, is primarily concerned with being "normal". He first bemoans the fact that all his friends have married while he has not, and then goes on to detail exactly how abnormal his life has been. The action of the movie is interspersed with these monologues.

In an obvious attempt at explore Jake's inner psyche, the movie gets lost along the way, caught up in its own artistic gimmicry. It fails to render any of its allegedly soulful characters believable--or even likeable. Instead, Jake's profound quest in life (for a brilliant career and a beautiful wife, of course) becomes a megalomaniacal alternate reality where the world centers upon him. Gorillas give him advice, faces carved into a stone wall give him advice, and important people from his life keep popping up at random times to give him advice. This kooky, off-the-wall style in entertaining at first, but quickly gets old.

The movie indicates how Jake inhabited this solipsistic reality even as a baby, when he was spun around on a lazy-susan at a Chinese restaurant. From his perspective, the world literally revolved around him.

Because of, or aside from the Jake's egocentricity, the other main characters are decidedly unreal. Joanne, Jake's sunshine on a cloudy day, is more or less consumed by her permanent spaced-out fog, and never expresses passion for him very convincingly. Ralph Macchio, appearing as Chris's prepubescent-looking best friend, undermines his karate kid persona with a wussy performance. Flailing emotionally throughout the movie, Macchio is especially unconvincing in his rendition of Chris's repressed homosexual love for Jake.

No less distressingly, truly spectacular actors appear in farcical and overdone bit parts, Whoppi Goldberg fulfils the rather insignificant role of Jake's mother's quirky side-kick, as well as popping up successively as a hard-hat construction worker, a marching band conductor on an interstate, and the mask of comedy in the stone-work of an off-Broadway theater. Kathleen Turner appears as a over-sexed soap-opera star who, in spite of her potentially exciting role as temptress, never makes her presence felt. Timothy Dalton is, however, somewhat elegant in his suave portrayal of the wheeler-dealer gallery owner, though his supposedly strong feelings for Joanne have seem tacked-on.

Although "Naked in New York" has a talented cast, and is artsy in the latest sort of surreal-random style (and with-it enough to make fun of traditional black-shirt despairing types of artsyness) a layer of superficiality suffocates the film, rendering it tiresome.

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