Autumn In New York features a doomed romance set against the changing seasons, which should give you a pretty good idea that it won't have the velveteen touch of an Eric Rohmer film. But it didn't have to be this bad. In the second directorial effort by actress-turned-director Joan Chen, Richard Gere stars as a handsome restaurateur and unrepentant womanizer with no plans to end his philandering ways. But he begins to question the choice shortly after meeting a pixieish designer of ugly hats (Winona Ryder) with a heart as big as it is riddled with tumors. After their first night together, Ryder reveals that she probably doesn't have too many more birthdays in her future, setting in motion a scene that will typify the remainder of the film: Gere sulks, Ryder responds with implausible cheeriness, and sparks conspicuously fail to fly. Almost comically slow and padded with pauses that must have been intended as pregnant, Autumn In New York has virtually nothing to recommend it. The screenplay by Allison Burnett (Bloodfist III: Forced To Fight) brings the hurt with almost every purple line (Gere to Ryder: "Man, you don't dance; you float!"), while Chen's direction abuses the services of cinematographer Changwei Gu (Ju Dou, Farewell My Concubine). Seldom content to show the action, such as it is, head-on, Chen shoots her characters from behind fences, car windows, screens, and frosted glass, stopping short only of setting a scene in a kaleidoscope factory. Meanwhile, Gere and Ryder demonstrate that sometimes even pretty people have no chemistry, and that if a project sounds like a glorified TV movie, it probably is, no matter whose name tops the credits. Any film that creates the desire for one of its protagonists to drop has problems beyond repair. When Autumn In New York essentially concludes that all a man needs is the love of a good, dead woman to set him right, it enters the realm of the unspeakably, scarifyingly awful.
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