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‘Anything Else’ Is Imitation

Woody Allen Should Star in His Own Stuff

By Jed Horne

Staff Writer

Anything Else

Written and Directed by Woody Allen

Starring Woody Allen, Jason Biggs, Christina Ricci, Stockard Channing, Danny DeVito

Rated R

Two stars

The list of criticisms of Woody Allen is almost trite -- too Jewish, too New York, too neurotic. It’s a waste of energy to point out the flaws in his work, mostly because those same flaws make Allen, well, Woody. But for someone who enjoys his stuff, predictable as it is, the biggest mistake he makes is casting someone other than himself in the lead role. When other actors do Jewish New York neurosis, it’s just not the same.

“Anything Else” has Woody withdrawal in spades: not only is Jason Biggs painfully unable to imitate a man who could be his grandfather, but Allen upstages his protÉgÉ in a supporting role, only succeeding at giving the audience a hint of what could have been. Not since Kenneth Branagh ruined “Celebrity” has a movie been this thoroughly destroyed.

Jason Biggs (“American Pie”) plays Jerry Falk, a rich Upper East Sider, part-time comic, and aspiring existential novelist. Falk’s existence is a balancing act of Allen-esque phobias -- unable to take control of his own life, he analyzes and rationalizes his doomed relationship with his Annie Hall-like girlfriend Amanda (Christina Ricci), his feckless contract with a two-bit agent (Danny DeVito), and his meaningless therapy sessions. His only outlet -- long walks in the park with a loony school teacher and street philosopher named David Dobel. Dobel’s advice ranges from the ludicrous (everyone should have a survival kit, complete with fish hooks and water purifying tablets) to the merely absurd (“never trust a naked bus driver”). But his self-confidence and devil-may-care attitude may be just what Falk needs to take control of his life.

In any Woody Allen movie, there’s plenty to work with. “Anything Else” has a few genuinely funny moments, a great supporting cast (Stockard Channing as Amanda’s mother comes to mind), and a jazzy score. The choice of teen-icons Ricci and Biggs as the main characters represents an interesting departure for Allen that almost succeeds: the duo do their best work in scenes where they can be self-centered teenagers, but are less successful in the parts that were obviously written for Woody Allen and Diane Keaton. Particularly irritating are Falk’s asides, a technique pilfered (like Amanda) from “Annie Hall.” The result is, perhaps predictably, inconsistent.