New York City Serenade

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Toronto International Film Festival

TORONTO -- The title might sound like something from Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, but "New York City Serenade," the third feature by actor-director Frank Whaley, keeps going tediously off-key.

This ersatz "Swingers" attempts to tap into the male psyche as represented by a pair of one-note losers (played by Freddie Prinze Jr. and Chris Klein), but the self-absorbed film keeps playing the same, talky refrain.

Commercial prospects don't hold much promise.

Freddie's Owen is a budding filmmaker who works at one of those one-hour photo places.

Chris' Ray is a drummer in a rock band who believes he can B.S. his way into getting anything he wants.

As far as their social lives go, Ray is a deadbeat dad and Owen did have a perky girlfriend (Jamie-Lynn Sigler), until she found out he was cheating on her and now he can't understand why she won't forgive him when he insists it didn't mean anything.

So when Owen finds out his short film has been accepted into a film festival, he takes his buddy along on the first-class flight and Ray shows his appreciation by getting them a sweet suite at the Four Seasons Hotel by posing as Wallace Shawn's son (don't ask).

That last bit was obviously intended to be one of the funnier aspects of Whaley's script, but as a director, he keeps forcing the humor.

His actors, meanwhile, aren't encouraged to deviate from singular character traits, with Prinze Jr. playing the hurt puppy dog and Klein locked into the same wisecracking smirk through much of the film.

By the time they finally try something else on for size, the viewer has long stopped caring since Whaley never bothers to explain just what it was about the obnoxious Ray that would make Owen want to be his best friend in the first place.

Arrested development has never been less arresting.
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