After plying his trade to diminishing returns with forgettable recent outings like “Sidewalks of New York” and “Ash Wednesday,” prolific writer-director Edward Burns’ “Looking for Kitty” represents a return of sorts to the pared-down, low-budget roots of his debut, “The Brothers McMullan.” Mellow chronicle of the friendship between two lonely men thrown together on a mission has some similarly disarming moments and occasional notes of bittersweet poignancy and humor. But the digitally shot comedy-drama is still naggingly thin and unlikely to withstand much theatrical scrutiny.
A former police officer having trouble securing regular private detective work or paying his rent since the death of his wife, Jack (Burns) lands one last case from his exasperated boss. His assignment is to accompany Abe (David Krumholtz), a high school baseball coach from upstate looking for his wife Kitty, who ran off leaving no explanation and has shacked up with an aging rock star.
As they comb New York City for the missing woman, the two men exert a gentle influence on each other. Jack opens the eyes of uncosmopolitan Abe to the magic of the city both past and present, while Abe reminds gruff, closed-off Jack of the rewards of human contact. As Jack gets to know Abe, and discovers him to be a generous-natured guy who truly loves his job and his unexciting life, he plants the idea that Kitty may not be the ideal woman for him after all.
Having peaked early in his career with “McMullan” and “She’s the One,” Burns has shown little growth as a filmmaker and perhaps even less development in his onscreen persona. While his character here is softened by loss and solitude, he’s still basically the same guy — a cocky, glib New Yawker channeling a less physical version of Bruce Willis. As such, the character invites no real emotional connection, despite the pathos of his inability to move on with life.
A much stronger investment is fostered by Krumholtz’s refreshingly relaxed performance. His lovelorn character is such a genuine, unguarded everyman in a cynical world that he gives the threadbare movie something approaching real heart. Supporting gallery feels self-consciously stuffed with sitcom-style quirks, but some laughs are supplied by Rachel Dratch as a boozy funseeker hiding her sadness, and Kevin Kash as a janitor hungry for friendship.
While HD lensing here is sharper than the average vid feature, the modest production has a purely functional look, but at least displays an affection for its Manhattan environments, which makes it watchable. Robert Gary and P.T. Walkley’s music and original songs help create an easygoing rhythm.