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Sporadically amusing but not as funny as the cast suggests it should have been
Karl and Harry are magician partners, regularly wooing their audiences with their brand of mystery and wonder. However two events tear them apart. The first is Harry's discovery that Karl is having an affair with his wife. The second is Harry accidentally beheading that same wife during a mishap with a guillotine. Many years go by and Karl is still working as a magician but is trying to break into the TV niche held by David Blaine, Derrel Brown and others of that ilk. Meanwhile Harry is selling knives in the supermarket to earn his living. With the Magic Shield coming up, Harry turns to Karl to reunite temporarily and win the contest. However barely minutes into it, old tensions resurface and the pair split again to go head-to-head.
It is a little concerning to watch the progress of the career or Mitchell and Webb. I first came across them in the quite brilliant Peep Show, where their delivery was excellent against the strong material. Next I saw their sketch show and, although it was a bit hit and miss, it was still reasonably amusing. Afterwards comes this film which again is a step down even if the move into films appears to be a positive step. The concept appears to offer up potential but somehow the script doesn't really give them the material to work with. For some reason the script keeps them apart too often and gives them romantic subplots (of a sort) to deal with. The film is at its best when they are together, clashing with one another in the awkward and uneasy way they do. However it must be said that these moments are not frequent enough and mostly the film is just not that funny.
The rather British "awkward" humour is OK but not as well done as those used to it will have seen it done other places. Mitchell and Webb are both pretty good when the material is given to them but again, this is not often enough for what they have shown they are able to do. The support cast is full of familiar faces from Spaced, Saxondale, The Thick of It and several other strong British comedies. However nobody really have the chance to shine apart from the wonderfully letchy Edge. Stevenson (now Hynes), Hardiker, Riseborough, Capaldi and others are all OK, but it is the lack of material offered them that limits them.
Overall then an OK comedy but nothing more than that. Viewers get glimpses of what the film could have been or what the cast are capable of and, while these glimpses are occasionally funny they do not make up for the fact that they are only glimpses. Credit to Mitchell and Webb for trying to show that they are much more than just Peep Show actors, but Magicians is not the vehicle that will do that for them.
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