Woody Allen's new film "Anything Else" stars Jason Biggs as Jerry Falk, a young Woody Allen - a comedy writer who lives to honor his neuroses, is stuck with an analyst who won't say anything, has a girlfriend from hell, in the person of Amanda (Christina Ricci), a manager, Harvey (Danny DeVito), who has devoted his entire life to making Jerry a success, which isn't necessarily what Jerry wants, and a mentor, David Dobel (Allen), who lives out his own nihilist fantasies.
The film is, or could have been, Allen looking back on his youthful career with some warmth and wit and even, God help us, serenity. Instead it is another dull stretch in the long road of Allen's decline. I say this in sorrow, because Allen's early films changed the way movies were written and performed. His enormous comic talent was a gift to all filmgoers; he was the best comic writer and actor since the coming of sound. And - often overlooked - he was a brilliant physical comedian. Look at his work as the house-robot in the dinner party scene at Diane Keaton's house in "Sleeper" for an example. He never says a word; his body language speaks volumes.
But "Anything Else" is dry and dull and unoriginal. Let me cite three problems:
Problem number one: "Anything Else" is about two comedy writers, presumably successful, one of whom is Woody Allen, who speak endlessly about life and issues, and there is not one funny line in the movie. No one is witty, no one is wise, no one is even interesting.
Problem number two: Everyone in the film has adopted Allen's patented double air-chops when speaking, which severely undercuts all attempts at defining characters as separate individuals.
Problem number three: So many scenes are virtual copies of previous ones, in both dialogue and staging, that we feel we're watching misplaced film reels in the projector, where each scene jerks us back and forth from past to present. We even know every line before it's spoken.
Neither Biggs nor Ricci have so much as an original thought; they are veritable compendiums of clichés. Biggs is in love with Ricci, she sleeps with anyone but him and then claims to love only him. He stammers and stutters his way through every humiliation, only to keep coming back. He can't fire his manager; and he's at the mercy of his mentor's neuroses. And so it goes for an hour and three-quarters.
I can, thank God, praise one person in the cast, and that is Stockard Channing, Ricci's mother Paula, who comes to stay with them and brings a little fresh air with her. She even shows a good jazz singing voice in the best moment of the film. For the rest, "Anything Else" - and what does the title mean? - is a sad failure.