Ed Burns’ latest excursion into Gothamites’ love lives, “Purple Violets,” once more features the multihyphenate Burns as director, star and writer, in descending order of competence. Pic’s single plot-hook has the cast floundering in repetition, unable to advance beyond the unfolding of the initial premise: Two ex-couples, who parted long ago, meet by chance and can’t stop chasing after or running away from one another — or ceaselessly prattling on about it. Name cast (including “Will & Grace” diva Debra Messing) may attract distribs, but pic looks to do best as low-cal date bait in ancillary.
Burns plays “the Murph,” once a charming life-of-the-party in college, now a charming, laidback lawyer, and two years sober. Burns waylays feisty schoolteacher Messing at every turn, begging for a chance to explain the misunderstanding that broke them up as undergrads. She adamantly refuses to hear anything he has to say.
Director Burns’ romantic quadrangle is such that the women have remained close friends since college, and the men have kept in touch as business associates, so the foursome remains a functional, self-contained unit, endlessly rehashing the past and speculating about the future.
While Burns and Messing embody the comic side of the two relationships, Patrick Wilson and Selma Blair wrestle with literary angst and professional jealousy, as well as a tempestuous live-in girlfriend (Elizabeth Reaser) and an unfaithful chef husband (Donal Logue).
Blair and Wilson’s stormy rekindled romance shuttles between Manhattan and the Hamptons, where emotions and writing blocks dramatically play themselves out against the crashing waves at Wilson’s multimillion-dollar beachfront retreat. Blair, who wrote a critically acclaimed but no-seller novel and lacks the support of a good man, has gone into real estate.
Given no grounding except for half-cooked dialogue more appropriate to a teen’s conception of the workplace, thesps come off as thirtysomethings only playing at being grownups. One could readily imagine reshuffling the four principals’ respective professions with no gain or loss of credibility.
Further, there is something vaguely creepy and disturbingly disingenuous about Burns’ aw-shucksy lawyer, still the college buddy and ordinary Joe, lounging around a huge, well-appointed, corner office, or touring Tribeca with real estate agent Blair in search of a new $5 million apartment.
Tech credits are pro, lenser William Rexer enhancing John Nyomarkay’s upscale production design while subtly downplaying the glamor.