Splashed all over the media, Robert Webb and David Mitchell only need step out of their doors for instant recognition. They have made the bold step of moving into cinema, bringing the Peep Show creators with them for what you might expect to be a sure-fire hit. But away from their popular sitcom characters the humour has never flowed so easily and it is sad to say two of Britain’s hottest comedians have wound up in a sub-standard, tv-style movie which doesn’t belong on cinema screens and fades quickly due to inevitable comparisons with previous magician outings The Prestige (Christopher Nolan, 2006) and, less so, The Illusionist (Neil Burger, 2006).
The similarities to The Prestige are jarring as a magical double act split up when a trick goes wrong, killing the assistant and pushing them apart. Sound familiar? Here the duo are Karl (Webb) and Harry (Mitchell) and their assistant is Harry’s wife. When Harry finds her in Karl’s arms before their finale, they go on with the show. However, when Harry slices his wife’s head off with the fake guillotine they abandon the partnership. Four years later Harry and Karl enter a magic competition together but dramatically split at the auditions in separate bids for the winning title.
The flat tone and seemingly cheap production combine to make poor entertainment.
A sketch show, live touring, Mac verses PC adverts and the success of Peep Show are all reasons why Mitchell and Webb will be regretting signing up to this poor British “comedy”. What should have been a crowning glory to all their achievements so far is a worrying decline in standards as they wheel out their usual alter egos. Webb again plays the chancer with big ideas that have critical failings while Mitchell’s Harry is another sad loser trying to find a way through life. The humour is intended to spring from their bickering and attempts to go solo, Karl’s pitch as the “Mind Monger” provides a rare highlight, however there is a distinct feel that it could, and should, have been so much better with the quality involved.
Peep Show creators Armstrong and Bain must be so used to having their characters deliver their inner-most thoughts directly to the audience that they forget to give us any sense of what Karl and Harry are feeling beyond some very unsubtle romantic subplots. Every scene hurries past quickly and quietly hardly raising a smile from the normally gold-standard leads. The other quirky magicians are left to skulk about in the background rather than being given time to exploit laughs and the one we do see regularly is so detestable you will wish he had done a disappearing act in his first scene. In The Prestige and The Illusionist there was at least an abundance of style for the magical performances — Magicians overlooks this potential for wowing the audience as it all looks so very cheap. This would be fine if it held together as a spoof flick or added to the comedy, but the flat tone and seemingly cheap production combine to make poor entertainment: O’Connor’s direction is lamentable. Where Mitchell and Webb go from here is anyone’s guess, but next time they sign on to do a film they need to make sure it will not make for as empty and turgid an experience as this.