Is Anybody There? (PG-13) **½

 

Michael Caine's magic does the trick.

Is Anybody There

By Connie Ogle, The Miami Herald

In this odd little British charmer, a kid obsessed with ghosts and the afterlife meets a cranky old geezer who teaches him not to be afraid of death. The enterprise would be a lot more twee and irritating if not for the presence of Michael Caine, who alternates between crotchety behavior and kindness and makes us feel somewhat better about the whole contrived business.

Solitary young Edward (Bill Milner) lives in a ripe atmosphere for someone interested in mortality: He's growing up in a home for the elderly in 1980s England, with a more or less steady stream of dying clients to spy on and parents too distracted to pay him much attention.

When someone expires, Edward lurks about the dead person's bedroom with a tape recorder hoping to record paranormal activity. ''What's wrong with playing with your Legos?'' his dad demands. But then retired magician Clarence (Caine) moves in (reluctantly), and after a rocky start he and Edward form a sort of friendship.

You don't need a Ouija board to suss out where all this is heading, but Is Anybody There? counteracts its deficiencies -- predictability, sentimentality -- with a healthy dose of dark humor. Caine is amusing and affecting, and he developes a nice rapport with Milner, who's genuine even when doing things no little kid would ever do. Even when the story takes a turn toward the maudlin -- as it inevitably must by the Rules of Movies about Elderly Gents Befriending Antisocial, Weird Little Children -- Is Anybody There? never makes the fatal mistake of testing our patience.

Cast: Michael Caine, Bill Milner.

Director: John Crowley.

Screenwriter: Peter Harness.

Producers: David Heyman, Peter Saraf, Marc Turtletaub.

A Big Beach Films release. Running time: 95 minutes. Language including sexual references, some disturbing images. Playing in Miami-Dade: Aventura, South Beach, Sunset; in Broward: Sunrise; Palm Beach: Shadowood, Delray.

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