That old slack magic

MA­GI­CIANS Di­rected by Andrew O’Con­nor. Star­ring David Mitchell, Robert Webb, Jes­sica Steven­son, Rosie Fell­ner, Peter Ca­paldi 15A cert, gen re­lease, 90 min

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Newdvds Filmreviews - DON­ALD CLARKE

OH DEAR. The many fans of Peep Show, Chan­nel 4’s de­li­cious com­edy of or­di­nary im­moral­ity, will have been look­ing for­ward to Ma­gi­cians with ea­ger an­tic­i­pa­tion. Fol­low­ing two pro­fes­sional con­jur­ers – once part­ners, now fierce ri­vals – as they rub to­gether at a magic com­pe­ti­tion in (yawn) Jer­sey, the pic­ture makes use of the stars and the writ­ers of the se­ries.

What’s gone wrong? We’re not quite in Ali G In­da­house ter­ri­tory here, but, like that wretched film, Ma­gi­cians is bad enough to make the view­ers re­con­sider their af­fec­tion for its creators.

Bolted to­gether from any num­ber of ram­shackle comic con­struc­tions, the pic­ture be­gins with David Mitchell’s up­tight con­jurer en­coun­ter­ing his wife in a com­pro­mis­ing po­si­tion with Robert Webb’s brasher per­former. Dis­tracted, but not ac­tu­ally homi­ci­dal, he goes on to de­cap­i­tate the un­for­tu­nate wo­man while at­tempt­ing a trick in­volv­ing a guil­lo­tine.

Some years later, the two men, nei­ther of whom has had much suc­cess work­ing alone, de­cide to get back to­gether again for that jam­boree in (yawn) Jer­sey. Then the part­ner­ship falls apart. Then they re­unite one more time. And so on.

Though we have been com­ing down with movie ma­gi­cians re­cently, what with The Il­lu­sion­ist and The Pres­tige, there is the germ of a good idea some­where in here. The sea­side set­tings re­mind one of Tony Han­cock’s The Punch and Judy Man, and both ac­tors have the right hang­dog look for per­form­ers stranded at the wrong end of the pier.

But each bad comic no­tion – there are, alas, few good ones – ap­pears to have been slung up on screen with­out pause for de­vel­op­ment or re­fine­ment (or, bet­ter, in­cin­er­a­tion). Mitchell and Webb ap­pear to be play­ing only slightly tweaked ver­sions of their Peep Show per­sonae, and the pic­ture looks hor­ri­ble enough to have been shot on the di­rec­tor’s phone. The art of magic is treated with con­tempt. The sup­port­ing play­ers are wasted. I could go on.

Still, fans of Peep Show, the fourth se­ries of which ends tonight, can con­sole them­selves with the knowl­edge that Sacha Baron Co­hen re­cov­ered from the Ali G film to make Bo­rat. All is not lost.

This trick’ll kill ya: David Mitchell gets a heads-up on Robert Webb

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