Is Anybody There? Michael Caine Deploys Masterful Cutesiness

Director John Crowley's lighter follow-up to the anguished Boy A features a standard teaming of reluctant oldster and troubled youngster—both residents of a down-at-the-heels family-run rest home. Besides the blokeish star playing retired magician Clarence (Michael Caine, who could twinkly-tearily confide with bobbing accent in his sleep), one charming difference is that the ornery kid (Bill Milner) gets as tetchy and self-pitying as his curmudgeonly pal. Milner was the Calvin-and-Hobbesian fantasist in Son of Rambow, and he again displays a headlong sense of enterprise as the mouthy junior-ghosthunter son of the home's overworked owners (Anne-Marie Duff and David Morrissey). (The requisite gallery of eccentric pensioners, played by British TV and stage vets, are like furniture to him.) TV writer Peter Harness' script finds a good macabre turning point for "The Amazing" Clarence's precipitous decline into senility, but even Crowley, who seems to have a knack with overloaded material, can't quite bring the thing in for a safe landing in all the slush. The action is set in the '80s, allowing for an insta-fade palette—and also apparently so that the young hero can still be bored.

 
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