R E V I E W   B Y   R I C H   C L I N E dir Andrew O'Connor
scr Jesse Armstrong, Sam Bain
with David Mitchell, Robert Webb, Jessica Stevenson, Peter Capaldi, Darren Boyd, Steve Edge, Rasmus Hardiker, James Mellor, Alex MacQueen, James Smith, Rosie Fellner, Miranda Hart
release UK 18.May.07
07/UK Universal 1h30
Make 'em gasp: Mitchell and Webb

stevenson capaldi boyd

Magicians Comedy duo Mitchell and Webb team up properly on the big screen for the first time (Mitchell's cameo in Confetti doesn't count). While it's endearing and occasionally inspired, it's just not funny enough. It certainly never scales the hysterical heights of their TV series Peep Show.

Harry (Mitchell) and Karl (Webb) are a successful magic double-act until adultery and tragedy strike. Four years later, they're still not speaking, but they decide to team up to compete for the coveted Magic Shield. Bad idea. So instead, they battle each other for the prize. Harry finds a new assistant in Linda (Stevenson), while Karl's agent Otto (Boyd) encourages him to develop his "Mind Monger" persona in a bid for TV stardom. And as their feud escalates, they begin to have other problems that threaten both of their prospects.

There's a witty premise here and plenty of opportunity to make fun of over-serious stage performers and, especially, recent magic-themed films. But the writers ignore that in lieu of more traditional TV-style gags, which must have seemed funny on the drawing board, and perhaps even on set, but fall flat on the big screen. The comical set pieces, such as Linda's dance number audition, emerge as mere embarrassments. And the running gags, such as Otto's constant gay innuendo, never go anywhere. The only things that draw laughs are throwaway lines of dialog and daft performances.

Mitchell and Webb have terrific on-screen chemistry, so it's a problem that they're barely together in this film. They have completely separate plots, including two formulaic romantic-comedy storylines, and it's when they're together that the film finally comes to life. The final segment, set during the last round of the competition, is clever and funny and rather sweet, boosted by a hilarious turn by Capaldi as the top judge.

In the end, the film is just about engaging enough to keep us watching. And maybe smiling. But we can feel it straining for a wacky hilarity that's only rarely achieved. In many ways it feels like the film was rushed, without adequate time to develop the script (despite a screen-full of names under a "story by" credit) or invest the film's flat direction with some comical flair.

cert 15 themes, language, innuendo 16.Apr.07

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2007 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall