Anything Else

It's an uneven film with an uneven Woody, still better than no Woodman at all.

So difficult is Woody Allen to market to the young crowd that most publicity for his new film, "Anything Else," plays down his roles as director/writer/actor to emphasize the love affair of Allen-act-alike Jason Biggs (the masturbating star of "American Pie") and Christina Ricci, a troubling vixen in her best role yet. As Biggs's mentor, Allen tells him that the Ricci character will have him "holding up filling stations to keep her in mood elevators."

Allen's films have never made much money, and he is aging, so the suits will have youth sell it.

When "Anything Else" works, Woody delivers lines like a standup comedian on his first gig, nerdy and cute and very New York Jewish. He plays a teacher, emerging comedy writer, and mentor to young writer Biggs. Yes, Woody's still a schlemiel channeling himself through Biggs, who does much better than Kenneth Branagh did in "Celebrity" imitating Allen. The hesitations and nervous mannerisms are there but less pronounced, far more natural in Biggs.

The central story marketed to young people is Biggs' tortured relationship with the uncommonly beautiful but sexually conflicted Ricci. As evidence, consider her statement to deny her disaffection: "Just because when you touch me I pull away." Like Allen in previous films, Biggs gets girl, loses girl, etc.

Well, what happens is not as important as the glimpses through the eyes of an old writer who can't separate himself from his city, his world of constant loss and gain. Allen tells Biggs, as they are thinking of going to the west coast for TV sitcom writing jobs, "You go where the money is; it's like anything else." Guess whether or not Woody leaves New York, and you'll understand the common forces of all Allen films.

There's a great deal of "Annie Hall" here, but it's not "Annie Hall." It's an uneven film with an uneven Woody, still better than no Woodman at all.