Monday, 14 May 2007

Magicians - Review by Robert Duffin

Director: Andrew O'Connor
Screenwriter: Jesse Armstrong & Sam Bain
Runtime: 90 Mins
Certificate: 15
Released: May 18

A year ago you would never have believed that, outside of Harry Potter, magic would be doing business at the box office. So now, after Christopher Nolan’s The Prestige and Neil Berger’s The Illusionist have graced the silver screen it’s the turn of the team behind Channel 4’s Peep Show to wow us with Magicians (“Peep Show The Movie, kinda.”). However I can assure you there will be no fleecing me this time, no Kobayashi moment will be required as I have been paying attention and if my memory of The Prestige serves me well, the perfect magic trick goes a little like this…

First there is The Pledge…

David Mitchell and Robert Webb are going to make us laugh ‘till doves fly out our pants as Harry and Karl, a successful stage magician duo. However things go sour when Karl reveals he has slept with Harry’s beautiful assistant/wife on stage during a performance, which ends with Harry accidentally guillotining his wife’s head off. The act splits, but as each solo career flounders they find themselves thrown together again in Jersey for the prestigious Shield Magician Championships.

Then there is The Turn…

Here is where the Peep Show team, first time director Andrew O’Connor and writers Jesse Armstrong and Sam Bain, make this ordinary sounding Brit comedy turn out to be something extraordinary. Uh oh, looks like the roll of coloured flags up their sleeve has been caught in their cuff. Magicians lacks the dark streak and wit prevalent in the cult Channel 4 show and instead forces crass humour down the audience’s throat. For a comedy, the laughs were few and far between. Mitchell and Webb play slight variations on their usual characters and this gives the film a tired feeling. O’Connor’s direction is stilted and as a result it has a TV movie aesthetic.

Bright spots come from Spaced star Jessica Stevenson’s turn as Harry’s new assistant Linda. Her absurd interpretive dance set to Electric Six’s Gay Bar, featuring her miming a mushroom cloud with her hands and recoiling in horror as she pulls out clumps off her hair to the line “lets start a nuclear war,” is the films sole laugh out loud moment. Peter Capaldi’s competition judge Mike Francis also frequently steals scenes from the array of cameoing television comedians. His po-faced response to a ‘flags of the world’ trick (“it won’t end the AIDS pandemic but it’s definitely a start”) is gold.

Finally there is The Prestige…erm…

What should be an extended curtain call, basking in the adoration of the British public who have taken them to their hearts, is a bittersweet finale. No illusion can hide that Mitchell and Webb have failed to follow in the coveted footsteps of Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. While their cinematic outings felt like real movies, this film has the air of an aborted Peep Show script that may have worked in 30 minutes but struggles to make 90. Magicians has its moments but with all the good will in the world it fails to impress. As the tagline says, “don’t ask them how they do it…ask them why?”

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