Anything Else

Woody Allen’s “Anything Else” is what his “Annie Hall” would have been if he had cast less-talented actors in it and dragged it out for an extra 15 minutes. It features an astounding amount of dialogue, even by Woody Allen standards, but lacks the wit and insight that have marked his best films.

Allen casts Jason Biggs as Jerry Falk, a neurotic, relationship-challenged New Yorker trying to make it as a comedy writer — a young version of Allen, in other words. Allen himself is David Dobel, an old writer who’s guiding Jerry through the pitfalls of youth with frank counsel and advice.

Currently, Jerry is in a horrid relationship with a horrid, needy woman named Amanda (Christina Ricci). They got together when Jerry stole her away from her old boyfriend, Jerry’s friend Bob (Jimmy Fallon). So that’s pretty classy.

Jerry and Amanda live together now, but he still doesn’t know how to deal with her mood swings, eating disorders and insecurities. Then her mother moves in — a dreadful, tired plot device, and nearly devoid of comedy, though it’s hard to be too upset, considering Mom is played by Stockard Channing, who is a welcome sight in any film, even if her character is merely extra baggage.

Jason Biggs and Christina Ricci are fine actors, and have done excellent work elsewhere. The task of carrying off Allen’s wordy, go-nowhere dialogue, however, would be too massive even for brilliant actors. He expects so much of them, but gives them so little to work with.

I like this brief exchange between Jerry and Amanda, discussing their first meetings:

AMANDA: I had a crush on you. Couldn’t you tell by the way I was ignoring you?
JERRY: There was something compelling about your apathy.

That’s good Woody Allen writing. It’s snappy and smart and nicely worded. And it’s nearly the only example of it in this film. The rest is mostly weak, verbose ramblings about love and relationships. It’s all been done, Woody. Come up with something new to offer — or at least a funny way of re-offering the old stuff — or stay home.

C- (1 hr., 47 min.; R.)