'Naked in New York' is barely amusing

August 26, 1994|By Stephen Hunter | Stephen Hunter,Sun Film Critic

The "naked" in "Naked of New York" is the nakedness of power. Here's a callow, unformed, infernally precious movie that has a cast far better than it deserves -- Kathleen Turner, Timothy Dalton, Eric Stoltz, Mary-Louise Parker, even, for crying out loud, William Styron. What is going on? Could it be . . . SATAN?

Actually, no: it's the powerful producer-director Martin Scorsese, serving as executive producer to Dan Algrant's meek little autobiographical tale about a wannabe playwright struggling for attention in Manhattan. For a shot at pleasing Scorsese and a shot at a plumb role down the line, these fancy folks climbed aboard and smiled when they did it.

Almost nothing in the film, which opens today at the Charles, is amusing except for the things that Algrant believes to be horrifying. The story is a long flashback by one Jake Briggs (Stoltz), stuck in mid-town traffic, bummed by the failure of his first play and the loss of his girlfriend Joanne (Mary-Louise Parker).

As he talks, we drift back in time and watch him growing up in bohemian New York (not interesting) and suffering when his father leaves (not interesting) and falling in love at Harvard (not interesting) with Parker, a clean-cut sort of polar opposite. Not interesting.

The movie is at its best after it contrives to get the delicate, poetic Jake in the grasps of a coarse, vulgar producer played by Tony Curtis and a predatory actress played by Kathleen Turner. By Algrant's standards, these two are the monsters that ruin show biz, and the piece has an air of obscure autobiographical grievance to it as it chronicles how these two "cheapened" Jake's play and doomed it, betraying Jake and his friends in the meantime.

Maybe so, but the two of them are the best things in the movie. Playing an amazon viper, Turner is as energetic and mesmerizing as she's been since "Body Heat." She eats this poor little punkin' alive! As for Curtis, he's still handsome, but liberated to play character parts with that wondrously dense Brooklyn accent, he's wonderful: tough, energetic, far more interesting than the delicate Jake.

The movie also has the irritating smugness of being full of inside jokes. At one point, Jake is invited to a Hamptons literary party where authentic writers Richard Price, Ariel Dorfman, Marsha Norman and even William Styron, who snubs Jake. At least Styron still has taste.

'Naked in New York'

Starring Eric Stoltz and Mary-Louise Parker

Directed by Dan Algrant

Released by Fine Line

Rated R

**

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