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Tricks in magic movie aren’t enough

October 26, 2006

I never really understood what was so great about magic. You’re paying someone (usually a guy with creepy eyebrows) to make you believe something is true, but you know it’s not, and he knows that you know it’s not. At the end of the day, there is nothing extraordinary about smoke and mirrors. And there’s nothing extraordinary about “The Prestige” -- except Scarlett Johansson’s inability to hold a decent English accent.

Set in turn of the century London, Alfred (Christian Bale) and Angier (Hugh Jackman) are budding magicians quickly rising to the top. They come into the business under the guidance of Cutter (Sir Michael Caine), the ingénue (a fancy way of saying the brains behind the brawn) who seems to know everything, yet is unaware of what destruction the rivalry between Bale and Jackman will cause.

One injustice leads to a shooting, which causes a broken leg, which makes one give the other…oh, I’ve forgotten what elaborate steps are taken by whom to destroy the other. But when Jackman and Caine kidnap Bale’s assistant/security guard and bury him alive, I had to roll my eyes.

About a third of the way into the movie, it becomes evident that “The Prestige” is not just a period piece about obsession, but also science fiction! Who wouldn’t have guessed that they go hand in hand?

Jackman’s character is not just adamant on destroying Bale’s career; he will do anything to learn the secret of Bale’s signature trick -- “the transporting man.” When he finds a possible answer in Colorado, he takes the boat from London to stay there until he learns it.

There is a man named Tesla, a rival of Thomas Edison, who has mastered a mysterious time and space property of electricity. Tesla is played by David Bowie. Although he has done many acting jobs in the past, this performance rivals only his role in “Labyrinth.” Bowie’s character knows what amazing power he holds, yet is a very delicate man.

His assistant is played by Andy Serkis, who did all the voice and green screen work for Gollum in “The Lord of Rings” trilogy. He really shows off his spectacular vocal ability by giving the character an obnoxious American tone that Englishmen are fond of making fun of.

Johannson plays an inexperienced assistant who works for and eventually falls in love with Jackman. He sends her to work for Bale, who she ends up falling in love with. It seems like everyone thinks Johannson is a great leading lady, but after seeing all the movies that came out this year with her I can’t understand why. Compared to Rebecca Hall, who plays Bale’s wife, Johansson’s performance was lifeless and flat -- like her last role -- while managing to be even less interesting. 

After what seems like a lifetime, the two magicians get to the point when neither of them can destroy the other. Or so they think.  All the cards are thrown down for the audience and we are left wondering why we didn’t see it before -- just like watching a real magic show.

So if you’re the kind of person who watches the “how did they do it” TV shows where the masked magician reveals how all the illusions are done by guys like Copperfield, Blaine and Chris Angel -- then you’ll probably go see this movie. Twice.