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
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