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Monday, August 7, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Promising filmmaker in a rut

Newhouse News Service

Whatever happened to Ed Burns?

That's not a call for a missing-persons alert. The guy married model Christy Turlington and bought John F. Kennedy Jr.'s old apartment. He still shows up in supporting parts on TV shows ("Will & Grace") and lead roles in bad movies ("A Sound of Thunder").

But what happened to the guy who made "The Brothers McMullen"? That low-key movie about a fractious Long Island family was a hit at Sundance in 1995.

Burns' latest, "The Groomsmen," was supposedly inspired by Fellini's classic of discontented slackers, "I Vitelloni." A more obvious and down-to-earth choice seems Barry Levinson's "Diner."

Now showing

"The Groomsmen" with Edward Burns, John Leguizamo, Matthew Lillard, Donal Logue, Jay Mohr and Brittany Murphy. Written and directed by Burns. 93 minutes. Rated R for pervasive language and brief nudity. Uptown.

Like that film, "The Groomsmen" follows a loosely connected group of male friends during a wedding weekend. One has a secret. One has a bad marriage. Favorite stories are trotted out, as are endless bottles of beer, and every night ends in either a new fight flaring up or an old friendship boozily reaffirmed.

Like "Diner," too, it has some pleasant location work (most on the Bronx's City Island) and a good cast. Donal Logue is fine as the older, embittered brother of groom-to-be Burns, and Matthew Lillard finally leaves the Mystery Machine behind to play a fully functioning adult. The best lines go to Jay Mohr as the clown of the crowd.

The problem is that Burns — who insists on writing all his own material — isn't a very good writer. There's nothing in these characters that makes them stand out, nothing in their stories that doesn't feel pre-ordained.

That is a shame because there's a lot of material to be mined from the outer-borough, Irish-American, working-class male experience; Denis Leary has been mining it for years, in TV shows like "The Job" and "Rescue Me," stories about family guilt, sexual shame, verbal dexterity and substance abuse. Meanwhile, Burns makes movies about guys sharing pitchers of Harp and waxing nostalgic over Tom "Terrific" Seaver.

Whatever did happen to Ed Burns, I hope he can recover from it.

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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