Rated PG-13 for language including sexual references, and some disturbing images, 95 minutes
Caine carries the familiar, offbeat but affecting "Is Anybody There?"
Michael Caine is a legendary, award-winning actor who can give great performances in just about any film ("Jaws 4" anyone?) and he is the primary reason to see the offbeat English dramedy "Is Anybody There?" The film channels many familiar themes - growing older and relationship between old guy and young boy, and while it can grow a bit maudlin at times, it's also sensitively handled and touchingly memorable.
"Is Anybody There?" is set in late 1980's seaside England, and concerns an unusual, uptight boy named Edward (Bill Milner), who grows frustrated living with his Mum (Anne-Marie Duff) and Dad (David Morrissey), who turned their home into basically a nursing home. Edward is concerned with the paranormal and longs to have contact with ghosts, always walking around with a tape recorder. A crusty and washed-up former magician named Clarence (Caine) who has a liberating sense of anarchy, always stirring up trouble. The two at first don't get along but help each other - Edward to relax a little and Clarence to accept his past and move on - their odd relationship changing each other more than they think.
"Is Anybody There?" is a surprisingly touching comedy, with many more poignant moments than you might think, but then that might be expected when you team an old man and a young boy. Milner, bearing a remarkable resemblance to "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory's" Freddie Highmore, anchors the film well in a solid performance as the peculiar, precocious little boy fixated on the afterlife and Arthur Clarke. He and Caine share a palpable chemistry together, and the best moments are the ones they share together, brimming with fun dialogue ("If I want to off myself, I'll just jump out the window," he tartly tells Edward, who hides his belts for fear he'll kill himself). Their relationship, while familiar and done many times in movies before, still provides the film's more memorable moments (a seance scene is particularly funny).
Of course, the very best thing about "Is Anybody There?" is the superb, emotionally-layered performance from Caine as the retired magician Clarence, who knows he's running out of time and can't do much about it. Caine is one of those extraordinary actors who can act completely with their face and body language, in particular watch Caine's doleful eyes when Edward completely dismisses him by throwing dirt in his face. Caine could've easily phoned this performance in (and he almost does) but he's the focus of every scene, you can't take your eyes off him.
"Is Anybody There?" chases too many rabbits, the subplots involving Edward's parents isn't all that interesting - a frustrated Mum and a disinterested, mid-life crisis affected Dad - tend to get in the way. The ending, as predicted as it can be, is emotionally charged and superbly handled by the leads. Recommended for Caine alone, who might garner even more awards consideration with this role.