But there is another lost soul at the old folks home, ten-year-old Edward (Bill Milner), angry at having to give up his room to the dying tenants. His Mum (Anne-Marie Duff) and Dad (David Morrissey) run the facility out of their home in an English seaside town. The recent resident of Edward's room has just died and Clarence has now arrived to take the dead man's place. Edward is obsessed with death and ghosts. When asked why he is so morbid, Edward shouts back, "Because I live here!"
If this sounds like the makings of a formulaic coming-of-age tale (that's right, another one), give yourself a bedpan. Clarence almost runs Edward down in his truck at first meeting and Edward heaves a chunk of soil at the back of Clarence's head. It's hate at first sight. Soon enough you know they are going to bond and Clarence is going to show Edward how to live and Edward is going to show Clarence how to die -- it's Harold and Maude and Where's Poppa? redone as an over-baked Yorkshire pudding.
Initially, Crowley creates a thoroughly despicable atmosphere in the old age home, with the elderly tenants deluded, spiteful, and self-centered, and you can almost smell the musty air. But Peter Harness's screenplay almost immediately does the film in; Is Anybody There? is as obvious as Caine's rancor. The clichés fly so fast that there is no sensible character development. There is not any discernible reason for Clarence and Edward to start hanging around together, they just do. Based upon vivid recollections of old Walter Matthau movies, you know there is going to be a scene where the two sit on a bench and the old guy spills out his regrets (check), a scene where the two leave the home for a wild adventure and worry the boy's parents (check), a scene where the boy gains respect from his peers due to helpful old guy advice (check), and a death scene that takes the characters from misery to extreme happiness (check-check check).
However, the film does have Michael Caine. Caine is one of those few actors who has never give a bad performance even in the most abysmal films (he was even good in Jaws: The Revenge). Caine makes Clarence's anger into a canticle of rage. But just when Clarence's nastiness becomes oppressive, Caine softens things up and sheds a dim light on his buried kindness. And Caine's charm is in evidence during a staging of his magic act for the old-age home residents (a demonstration that goes sadly awry). Unfortunately, Crowley slices and dices Caine's scenes so that it is hard for Caine to get together head of stream. The result is a collection of clips that will look great during awards season but cannot uplift Is Anybody There? from its soft nougat center of hackneyed drivel.
Room for one more.
Run time: 94 mins
In Theaters: Friday 1st May 2009
Box Office USA: $2.0M
Distributed by: Big Beach Films
Contactmusic.com: 2 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 65%
Fresh: 74 Rotten: 40
IMDB: 6.8 / 10
Director: John Crowley
Screenwriter: Peter Harness