Even though he's saddled with a name that immediately calls to mind Dustin Hoffman's Ratso from Midnight Cowboy, instead of yelling at people that he's “walking here,” Johnny Rizzo (Matt Bush) is a young man best described by his Uncle Terry (Edward Burns) as “nice to a fault.”
Although it's eluded him so far, the audience and Uncle Terry are quick to realize that Johnny Rizzo is stuck in one of those coasting relationships since college that is soon to result in marriage to a woman who uses phrases like, “I'm not being a bitch, I'm just trying to help.”
Given a deadline by his fiancee Claire that he should be making fifty grand a year by the age of twenty-five or he'll switch careers from being a sports talk DJ during the insomniac shift to a manager at a moving box factory, Johnny arrives in New York City ready to give into the interview and remain a man of his word.
Yet thankfully for both the audience and our “nice to a fault” lead, Johnny's bartender and toxic bachelor Uncle Terry has other ideas for the weekend that don't include bitchy help or cardboard boxes as a road trip to the Hamptons is quickly hatched.
While it's Terry's mission to see his nephew experiment with infidelity or at the very least walk to the edge of the line he shouldn't cross (that Terry desperately wants to shove him over), Johnny remains staunch in his promise until he meets a beautiful blonde named Brooke (Kerry Bishe) who boldly and bluntly tells him to promise her he won't accept the job.
However, the job is one thing and the girl is something different altogether as Johnny tries to keep his emotions in check and remain that old fashioned, gentlemanly nice guy even though he's begun to find himself attracted to the recent California college graduate tennis pro.
Weighing his passion for broadcast journalism with his promise to Claire, Johnny is in for one long weekend in Edward Burns's ninth romantic tinged New York dramedy. And as the writer/director revealed, Nice Guy Johnny was inspired by his own personal struggles whether or not to give into the studio system and direct a big budget romantic comedy he hasn't written or remain true to his passion for chatty films in the vein of his heroes like Woody Allen, Louis Malle, and Francois Truffaut.
Obviously since Nice Guy Johnny was the result of the process as opposed to the latest studio rom-com, it's pretty safe to see the direction the admittedly predictable film is heading but much like its main character, Johnny is unfailingly likable. And while it sticks pretty solidly to Burns's niche about New York men battling with their love lives and Peter Pan syndromes, thankfully there's something a bit more poignant and less gimmicky about Johnny than say, the less successful Groomsmen.
Arguably Burns's strongest film since Sidewalks of New York, yet one that may threaten to get overlooked since it uses zero stars as Mr. Burns is the most recognizable face you'll see onscreen, Johnny, which also reunites him for a fourth time with his talented cinematographer Will Rexer is one of his most visually breathtaking as well, having been shot on the flattering RED camera.
Able to enhance nearly every scene to a polish worthy of films with ten times the budget, save for a crucial scene at a bonfire that's so dimly lit I had a hard time making it out while viewing it in HD through Tribeca Film Festival Virtual, Johnny shows a new, contemplative and far artier side of Burns without shedding the same “boys will be boys” camaraderie for which the director's work is famous.
While again I wish he would flesh out his female characters a bit more than having Johnny choose between the helpful bitch and the bonfire bombed blonde since we're not quite sure Brooke does much more than reflect back to him what he really wants in life which is the opposite of cardboard boxes, it remains one of the director's most mature and universal works. Likewise, it's one that's similarly ideal for online screenings such as the way I first encountered Burns' Nice Guy since everyone viewing can identify with the need of its lead to identify their passion in life.
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FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I viewed an online press screening of this title in order to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique.