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Movie Review : An Evocative Meander in 'Manhattan'

November 18, 1994|PETER RAINER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Iranian-born director Amir Naderi, who has been living in New York City since 1987, has a fine eye for the city's avid, woebegone landscape. In "Manhattan by Numbers," his first American feature, he lets his camera roam from Washington Heights to the Lower East Side, and he always finds fresh ways of seeing things.

The film might have been better if Naderi, who made the acclaimed "The Runner," had made a documentary. He has such a lyrical, free-flowing feeling for the city that the story he comes up with seems forced and perfunctory by comparison. It's about a laid-off Daily News reporter, George Murphy (John Wojda), who spends a long day trekking around the city trying to stir up $1,200 to avoid eviction. His wife and daughter are staying with his father-in-law in Queens.

As George rifles through his address book calling friends from pay phones and getting nowhere, you begin to get a sinking feeling: This is going to turn out to be an Odyssey. When George tries to locate an old despairing friend who appears to have dropped out of sight, George's money hunt turns into a Samuel Beckett escapade: It's Looking for Godot.

*

Wojda's overwrought acting jars with Naderi's naturalism. Perhaps Naderi agrees, since long stretches of the film show the actor in medium and long shot wandering the streets wordlessly. But he manages to work in a range of New York "types"--homeless people, reporters, landlords--who resonate as more than types.

"Manhattan by Numbers" is listless but Naderi is a true filmmaker. His evocation of the city deserves a better movie, but this one's not bad.

* MPAA rating: Unrated. Times guidelines: It includes scenes of homelessness.

'Manhattan by Numbers'

John Wojda: George Murphy

Branislav Tomich: Chuck

Mary Chang Faulk: Ruby

Frank Irwin: Floyd

A Rising Star/Pardis Inc./International Film & Video Center production. Written, directed and edited by Amir Naderi. Producer Ramin Niami. Executive producers Behrouz Hashemian, Bahman Maghsoudlou. Cinematographer James Callanan. Music Gato Barbieri. Time: 1 hour, 28 minutes.

* In limited release at the Monica 4-Plex, 1332 2nd St., Santa Monica, (310) 394-9741.

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