Famous (and fraudulent) psychic Elliot Blake uses his old mentalist skills to live a lavish lifestyle at the expense of a psychic research institute and hopefully, the US Government. What seems at first like a threat, a test devised by a well-known magician and debunker of psychics, turns out to be his chance for revenge against his former mentor. What he can't foresee is a police lieutenant who knows all the tricks. Written by
Mark Cabot Robinson
When Tommy does the card trick for Columbo in the magic shop he holds the deck a bit too high for the camera angle - you can see that, in fact, the entire deck is made up of Aces of Diamonds. See more »
He was loved. Well, not by those mind readers and psychics; they weren't so crazy about him, once he got on their case. But magicians loved him. I loved him.
I've never seen so many wonderful tricks. Those beautiful Chinese rings, and that terrific birdcage. Once, on a vacation with Mrs. Columbo, I saw a magician make a tiger disappear right out of the ring, but I've never seen a trick like that guillotine trick upstairs. That must be some dangerous trick.
Not if you're careful. Max built in ...
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Not the classic series but does enough to entertain fans by sticking near formula
Elliot Blake is a well-known psychic who is working to prove his skills to the US Government so he can enter the lucrative and highly secretive programme for developing psychic powers. Despite having blitzed the tests (with a little help from the inside) the game appears up when magician and renowned cynic Max Dyson is brought in by the Government to give him a harder test. What the Government agents don't know is that the men have a history and Dyson helps Blake by passing him despite him being a fake. However this history also drives Blake to kill Dyson in the latter's own magic guillotine making it look like a tragic accident. It appears an open and shut case of death by misadventure but a Philips head screwdriver is enough to put doubt in Columbo's mind. Finding that Dyson had just worked with Blake and signed him off as genuine, Columbo turns to his unique talent to assist him with the case.
As with many TV film series (such as Perry Mason), if you like one or two of them then you'll pretty much like them all. This entry in the Columbo series pretty much follows the usual formula we know the killer and the "perfect" plan but then watch Columbo follow his hunch and gradually starts to pick holes in the story he is told before eventually finding enough to prove his suspicions. Knowing this ahead of time won't ruin anything for you; it is simply what happens in all the films. With this strict adherence to formula it is usually down to several factors whether or not the Columbo film stands out or if it is just average. The new Columbo films don't always pull this trick off but this one is enjoyable enough thanks to sticking close to the formula to cover up for the unlikely nature of the plot. Although it provides some nice ideas, the narrative lacks a real lack of convincing development and this at times put me off but generally it had enough about it to keep me interested.
The way Columbo solves the mystery isn't a nice, logical story but moves in jumps and sudden discoveries; again it is entertaining enough but not quite as satisfying where he picks at smaller details. The magical aspect of the story has been done better earlier in the series but it still works well here, providing Columbo with some nice scenes where he turns the tricks on Elliott to get his man. It isn't classic fare but it should satisfy fans. Falk is on good form, which helps, and he does enjoy a nice chemistry with Andrews. The latter is not great but he is good enough to work within the formula and make for an interesting target for Columbo. Support from Zerbe is good but other than him nobody else is really that memorable.
Overall this is not up to the standard of the better Columbo episodes from the 1970's but it is actually reasonably good. By sticking to formula it covers up the plot weaknesses and will do enough to satisfy fans of the film. A much better alternative would be "Columbo: Now You See Him" but failing a return to the best days this is an OK modern Columbo.
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