Magicians

Note: This review is from 2007

Review by Steve Bennett

Poor Mitchell and Webb. Like the characters they perpetually play, nothing seems to quite right for them. They star in by far the best comedy on TV to the stubborn disinterest of all but the 1.3million viewers who regularly tune it. But then they do something as mundane as the Apple adverts, and everyone sees them – and wonders what the hell all the fuss was about.

You can’t deny that they’re everywhere, especially when you add their own sketch show, tour and David Mitchell’s career as a professional comedy panellist to their CV. How thin can their undeniable talent be spread?

The answer is: not far enough to hold a film, too. By rights, Magicians should be brilliant, given that it’s written and directed by the Peep Show gang and featuring the cream of British comedy actors. But a few nice touches aside, this underpowered film, for wont of a better phrase, lacks magic. With no sense of occasion or ambition, it feels more like a moderately entertaining ITV comedy-drama hour than a major motion picture.

The premise is neat enough and funny enough, suggesting a dark undercurrent that never quite materialises. Magic double act Harry (Mitchell) and Karl (Webb) are at the height of their game, when Harry catches his partner shagging his wife – their assistant – inside one of their props. Cue the end of their friendship and – when Harry ‘accidentally’ decapitates his wife when a guillotine trick goes awry – the end of their career.

Fast forward four years, and Karl’s desperately trying to break into TV whatever way he can, while Harry’s reduced to demonstrating kitchenware. But could the prospect of a big-money magic contest bring them back together again and revive their tainted careers? Well, take a wild guess.

The plot plays out exactly as the formula says it should. Obstacles overcome, redemption all round, reluctant on-off romance sub-plot satisfactorily resolved. Writers Sam Bain and Jesse Armstrong, so keen to subvert the traditions of sitcom in Peep Show, here play out the story exactly by the book, that book being Hollywood Screenwriting For Dummies.

Such predictability wouldn’t really matter so much if the story was laugh-a-minute throughout, but it rather limps from one set piece to the next. And the construction that keeps the double act apart for so long means a vital chemistry is missing.

There are some lovely individual scenes – such as Harry applying for benefits and awkwardly stammering over the reason he’s a widower or Karl buried up to his neck in sand for some David Blaine-style stunt involving a Mr Potato Head – but they don’t quite join up to any great effect.

It’s the side characters and cameos – from a supporting cast that includes Miranda Hart, Marek Larwood, Tom Meeten and James Bachman - that provide most the interest, such as Steve Edge’s lasciviously slimy magician Tony White or the professional ‘stooge’ taking great pride in his work.

The Thick Of It’s Peter Capraldi steals every scene he’s in as the sarcastic competition compere, and the wonderful Jessica Stevenson again proves she can do no wrong as the perfectly pitched love interest for the socially awkward Harry.

Yet for all that’s good here, the sum total is a disappointment. Wait for the DVD and a rainy Tuesday afternoon, because somewhere along the line Magicians has missed a trick.

Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
May, 2007

Review date: 20 May 2007
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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