Death Defying Acts
Guy Pearce plays the performer Harry Houdini but there is no escaping the shackles of boredom in this turgid romance. His love interest is Catherine Zeta-Jones, who plays the Edinburgh lass Mary McGarvie, a psychic or con artist, depending on how you look at it. McGarvie accepts Houdini's $10,000 (Dh36,700) séance challenge to reveal to the world what his mother's dying words to him were. The story is told from the perspective of Mary's daughter and sidekick Benji (Saoirse Ronan) who is desperate to escape poverty ? she's more Artful Dodger than Oliver Twist. Her principal foe is Houdini's minder Sugarman, played by Timothy Spall, who is once again typecast as a dubious cantankerous fellow who isn't totally evil. Sugarman and Benji are alarmed by the romance brewing between Mary and the married Houdini. But the affair is completely lacking in magic. The blame for this must fall at the feet of the director Gillian Armstrong, who was once part of the Australian New Wave but now is making uninspiring period pieces (The 2001 Charlotte Gray and the 1997 Oscar and Lucinda were her last two fictional films). Every line spoken is so austere that the characters seem like they're acting in straitjackets. But it's the audience that will be most desperate to escape.
Updated: July 28, 2008 04:00 AM