[box cover]

Anything Else

Most filmmakers slow down in their old age, but you can still count on Woody Allen to churn out a new movie every year. Lately, however, it's unlikely that the content of said film will reflect the newness of its release date. Anything Else (2003) amounts to something of a bizarre out-of-body experience for Allen — it flatly recycles material from his excellent 1977-1985 period, but replaces his company of actors with younger stand-ins. Jason Biggs stars as Alvy Singer— er, make that Jerry Falk, a young Manhattanite comedy writer (who suspiciously fails to utter anything remotely humorous until 70 minutes into the film) with — get this — a ditsy, neurotic actress girlfriend, played by Christina Ricci. Despite bringing in twentysomething stars with some box-office appeal for younger audiences, Allen makes no effort to revitalize his subject matter, and it's a little eerie watching Biggs and Ricci discuss Tennessee Williams, Sartre, O'Neill, and Billie Holiday, and show neither any mark of ironic detachment nor imprint of the popular culture that has affected every other one of their peers on the planet. Further, Biggs is a vacuum as the film's leading man; he's humorless and dull, and sleepwalks his way through an undemanding part. He fails to show any charm to alleviate Jerry's cluelessness, and confirms that any promise displayed in the first American Pie film was the result of vapors cast upon him by his more talented colleagues. Ricci is better, but her character is little more than a vapid tease, far removed from the smart, complicated, and daffy female characters Allen was once celebrated for crafting. It's little surprise that Allen himself is a scene-stealer as Jerry's paranoid mentor — he expertly plays his own material without losing anything in translation, and Stockard Channing is equally as good as Ricci's has-been lounge singer mother. Also fine is Danny DeVito as Jerry's Broadway Danny Rose-ishly inept manager. Nevertheless, the film depends on its young, neurotic lovers, who are utterly unable to generate any interest in their success or failure as a couple. And as these young characters continuously force unflattering comparisons by echoing moments from Allen's best movies, Anything Else grows increasingly pallid, albeit saving its best moments for the final act. Despite his prominent billing, Jimmy Fallon only appears for a few minutes. For all that, Anything Else is Allen's best-looking movie in at least 10 years (save for maybe 1998's black-and-white Celebrity, which should only ever be watched with muted audio), thanks to great work by cinematographer Darius Khondji. DreamWorks' DVD offers a great anamorphic transfer (2.35:1) with a monaural audio track. Trailer, keep-case.
—Gregory P. Dorr

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