Aiming for a “Once”-over romantic drama between young New York street musicians, TV documaker David Grubin’s first narrative feature, “Downtown Express,” is a polished indie that goes in one ear and out the other. Kathleen Cahill’s screenplay boasts little complexity of character or conflict, while the mix of classical airs and wispy pop should please fans of singer-songwriter turned thesp Nellie McKay, but won’t achieve the impact of the “Once” soundtrack. The pic opens theatrically Aug. 24 on a single Los Angeles screen.

Cellist Vadim has emigrated from Russia for the sake of violinist son Sasha (classical pro Philippe Quint), with nephew Arkady (Ashley Springer) along for the ride. Vadim’s hopes are pinned on Sasha, who’s studying at Julliard under no-nonsense Marie (Carolyn McCormick), with whom dad spars over interpretive approaches before commencing a romance. Meanwhile Sasha joins the titular electric street quartet led by Ramona (McKay, light on acting presence), with similar sparks ensuing. A last-minute crisis over which musical path Sasha should take comes out of nowhere, and feels manufactured to create climactic tension. Perfs are OK, but low on chemistry.

Downtown Express

  • Production: An Intl. Film Circuit release of a DTX production. Produced by David Grubin, Michael Hausman. Executive producer, Tyrone Brown. Directed by David Grubin. Screenplay, Kathleen Cahill, from a story by Cahill, Grubin.
  • Crew: Camera (color, HD), Edward Marritz; editor, Jeffrey Wolf; music, Michael Bacon, Nellie McKay; production designer, Hilary Rosenfeld; art director, Scott Dougan; set decorator, Angela Harner; costume designer, Rosenfeld; sound, Daniel Sheppard; re-recording mixer, Matt Gundy; assistant director, Michael Hausman; casting, Pat Golden. Reviewed on DVD, San Francisco, Aug. 16, 2012. Running time: 90 MIN.
  • With: With: Philippe Quint, Nellie McKay, Michael Cumpsty, Carolyn McCormick, Ashley Springer, Declan Bennett, Jade Synstelien, Chris Eddleton, Igor Fonberg.
  • Music By: