Michael Caine mugs endlessly for the sake of a curious little boy (and for the camera) in John Crowley’s whimsical British comedy Is There Anybody There? Set in a home turned into an old-folks home by overzealous parents, this movie attempts to at once be irreverent and warm-hearted. The mix, difficult to manage for even the most proficient of filmmakers, proves too much to handle for the relative newcomer Crowley. The resulting movie is tonally wobbly and less entertaining than ingratiating.
Centered on a boy’s pursuit of the question of what happens to us after we die, this script comes up with nothing more than the tritest answers imaginable. Instead, it offers plenty of shenanigans, in which Caine, playing a retired magician, goes through a predictable cycle of friendship, misunderstanding and reconciliation with the boy. The fundamental problem is that the boy’s character is thinly sketched. There’s no good reason, beyond a child’s typical morbid curiosity, that he should be so captivated by the afterlife, so the entire film seems a bit arbitrary. It might have worked as an actor’s showcase, despite its deficits, if only Caine weren’t so obviously on autopilot throughout.