City by the Sea

on September 06, 2002 by Susan Green
   The soundtrack of "City by the Sea" should have included "My City in Ruins," the Bruce Springsteen song about urban decay in Asbury Park subsequently adopted as an anthem for New York's 9/11 nightmare. The Jersey Shore community serves as a geographical body-double for Long Beach, an equally decrepit Long Island beach town that is the theoretical setting for this high-profile movie. Both were once bustling, prosperous resorts. A more layered script might have traced the decline of the place to illuminate what's happened to the people, but the story remains simplistic and tediously predictable.

   Director Michael Caton-Jones uses Long Beach--with its deserted boardwalks and abandoned, graffiti-covered pavilions now housing junkies--as mere backdrop. Veteran Manhattan homicide detective Vincent La Marca (Robert De Niro, who worked with Caton-Jones on 1993's "This Boy's Life") grew up there. As a middle-aged cop, he's haunted by bad karma and bad decisions. His father was executed in 1959 for the kidnapping and accidental death of a baby. When La Marca's marriage to Maggie (Patti Lupone) fell apart, he left behind a son who is almost a stranger to him 14 years later. The kid, Joey (James Franco), disappears after becoming the prime suspect in a deadly drug deal. His remorseful Dad must figure out what to do.

   La Marca also has to come to terms with Michelle (Frances McDormand), a lover who wants more commitment and more insight into his troubled past. Initially, he's the kind of guy who doesn't share. Otherwise, characters are always saying precisely what's on their minds, leaving little to the imagination. Mundane dialogue, by screenwriter Ken Hixon, makes such a straightforward approach even duller. The cast is blameless. De Niro and McDormand, in particular, are so talented that audiences could well begin rooting for them to transcend their clunky lines. Starring Robet De Niro, Frances McDormand, James Franco, George Dzundza, Patti Lupone, Eliza Dushku, William Forsythe, Anson Mount, Brian Tarantina, Dominick Angelo Cangro and Pasquale Enrico Cangro. Directed by Michael Caton-Jones. Written by Ken Hixon. Produced by Brad Grey, Elie Samaha, Michael Caton-Jones and Matthew Baer. A Warner Bros. Pictures release. Drama. Rated R for language, drug use and some violence. Running time: 106 min

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