Harry (Mitchell) and Karl (Webb) are a successful magic act, until Harry accidentally lops off the head of his wife and stage assistant after he discovers shes having an affair with Karl. But the pair have to reunite in order to win a magic competition.
Comedy duo David Mitchell and Robert Webb have shown they can conquer virtually any medium. Radio: done. TV: three series of Peep Show and counting. Anthropomorphic representations of home computers holding up signs in order to sell machines of infinite capabilities that you’ll only use for email and surfing for pictures of boobies: yup. But can they cut it as film stars? Well...
It’s not Mitchell and Webb as performers who are really at fault in this steadfastly old-fashioned, gently amusing comedy. They are as likeably put upon and grumpily appealing as ever — because they’re playing much the same characters they always do. Robert Webb, a warmly sarcastic collection of head wobbles and acrobatic eyebrows, is Karl, the slightly better-adjusted of a pair of end-of-the-pier magicians who fall out after an onstage tragedy; David Mitchell is his shark-eyed, eternally embarrassed boob of a partner, who wants to reunite with Karl to win a big competition and pocket the cash prize. It’s the same dynamic they use to such strong effect in their various TV hits. But their comedic abilities are given too much of a challenge when called upon to prop up a film of rather slight cinematic ambition and awkward construction.
There’s no finesse to Magicians, no showmanship or taa-daa. TV-level staging highlights the low production values and, while there’s a reasonable hit-rate on the jokes, the story is too faintly drawn and there are large plotholes that a few expository gags can’t hope to fill. It’s too much of a mish-mash of subplots in search of a solid core on which to latch. Even Mitchell and Webb share so little screen time that they feel a little like bit-part players in their own movie.
There are comedy highpoints: Jessica Stevenson does admirable work, fleshing out an underwritten love interest role into a woman you warm to and care about; Peter Capaldi gives great ham as the compère of the magic show and Darren Boyd’s lascivious agent ups the funny exponentially every time he sidles through a scene. But this is all warm-up act material, without even enough razzle-dazzle to distract from the fact that it has no genuinely clever tricks up its sleeve.
The bumbling charms of the stars just about pull this through, but therell be few calls for an encore come the final curtain.