I've always felt that a story that combines friendship and a shared passion for magic would make a fine film. It's the theme that pervades Leslie Danoff’s
excellent documentary, Saturday at Reuben's
. A film in this vein could do for magic what Thomas McCarthy's "The Station Agent" did for train aficionados.
With Sir Michael Caine in the cast, "Is Anybody There" has definite star power and it's a good film with first rate performances. Caine stars as a bitter and aging retired magician who is stuck in a retirement home. His counterpoint, Bill Milner, stars as the young son of a couple that manages the home who is intrigued by the deaths that he has witnessed there.
The pair strike up an unlikely friendship - each filling a need in the other. The kid literally has no magic in his life (he's so cynical, he can't even enjoy Christmas). Caine's character, on the other hand, has lived a full life and can't believe that the retirement home is all that he has to show for it.
Magic, in a secondary role, is treated with respect (magic consultant for the film was Scott Penrose). While Caine’s character uses magic to befriend the boy, he seems to have little passion for it. Maybe he's just lost it on the way. Some magicians may dislike the exposure of a card move.
In a contradiction, Caine's character has been a successful magician who appears to have played the major UK circuits. However, his cheesy truck, which has his stage name emblazoned on it, doesn't fit the persona.
Is Anybody There?
I liked the film's premise as well as the characters, but overall, I felt that the plot proceeded in a rather perfunctory manner. In particular, developments towards the end of the movie seemed to occur too quickly.
"Is Anybody There" is an involving and well crafted film, but it fell short of the promise of a story that has a passion for the art of magic at its core. I think a more magic-centric film would have made this one stronger.