Autumn in New York

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“Autumn in New York” was not screened for critics before it opened. Usually, this is because the film sucks and the studio — in this case, MGM — knows it. By keeping it from critics, they prevent bad opening-day reviews and make as much money as they can from unwarned audiences before the word gets out.

In this case, star Richard Gere insisted that suckiness was not a factor in MGM’s decision. He said the film was kept from prying eyes in order to keep certain plot elements a secret.

This is immediately suspect, as films now famous for their plot twists — “The Sixth Sense” and “Fight Club” spring immediately to mind — were screened for critics, along with polite requests, almost universally adhered to, that critics not spoil anything in their reviews. What could be so twisty about a weepy romance movie to bring about such secrecy?

Well, not to spoil the ending or anything, but it turns out that “Autumn in New York” DOES suck, and Richard Gere was lying to us! That is indeed a turnaround.

The film, directed by Joan Chen (the acclaimed “Xui Xui: The Sent Down Girl”), benefits greatly from Changwei Gu’s gorgeous cinematography. New York may be a stinking cesspool, but it has a beautiful side, too, that is captured on film every now and then.

The movie suffers, however, from Allison Burnett’s terrible screenplay, whose only surprise is that there are no surprises whatsoever, and that every development is predictable and broadly telegraphed, not to mention moved along by dialogue that ranges from clunky to downright awful. (“I can smell the rain,” says Winona Ryder with great philsophical importance. “When did I learn to do that?”)

The plot, more accurately, is like an easy multiple-choice test. Maybe you can’t guess EVERY detail right from the start: A couple things are not apparent just from watching the previews or seeing the first half-hour of the film. But once the movie sets up situations, from which one of maybe three or four developments could arise, we can always guess which one it’s going to be.

So plot isn’t everything. Many films are enjoyable because of their characters or emotions. This is not one of those films, however. The depth is forced and contrived, with emotions wrested from the audience by way of giving a main character a terminal illness — classic “we can’t figure out any other way of getting your attention” movie behavior.

Gere and Ryder are a May-December romance, hampered by the fact that she has a heart problem and will be dead inside of a year. He’s a famous chef named Will; she’s an artsy-craftsy kind of gal named Charlotte; together, they have a small amount of chemistry, but that can be attributed to the fact that both are charming actors, and they’re liable to have SOME chemistry with practically anyone. Certainly their love story doesn’t inspire much emotion, as they go on one date (after which they hop into bed) and immediately start discussing their “relationship.” What relationship? You’ve been on one date! Sex or no sex, you’ve spent 12 hours together: Find something else to talk about.

The acting is not the problem here. Ryder and Gere, while neither one deserving an Oscar, do solid work. Gere, especially, is good as a wealthy, apparently happy man with serious flaws.

The problem is in the bland script and, frankly, the whole May-December thing: These people are just too far apart in age to make any sense together. We never get any clue what it is they see in each other. (How could we when, after one date, they already think they have a relationship?) These two are in love solely because the movie tells us they are, and that is not enough to get the audience to invest any emotion in their fate.

D+ (; PG-13, two F-words and a couple other profanities, one scene of sexuality.)

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