Magicians (2000, James Merendino)

Supposedly, Magicians came out on DVD (pan and scanned), then disappeared as the releasing company went under. Merendino shot it Panavision, so there was some painful cropping. It’s still possible to see some of what Merendino was doing, but sometimes I just had to imagine how much more effective it would be. Merendino’s a filmmaker who does more with his money than John Carpenter did back in the late 1970s, which is an incredible feat. Merendino knows how to make things work and if I weren’t aware of that ability, I wouldn’t have been looking for the signs and I wouldn’t have found them.

Much of Magicians is an absurd comedy about a great pick-pocket, played by Fabrizio Bentivoglio, and a lousy magician, played by Til Schweiger. They go on the road to Vegas, learning their act on the way, assisted by trainer Alan Arkin and Claire Forlani. Maybe what won me over (not really, it happened to far in) was the scene where all of them are laughing. It’s obvious the actors are laughing, mostly at Arkin, who’s hilarious. Bentivoglio has the leading man role and he does a great job with it. Merendino loves conversation and Bentivoglio has some great scenes because of that emphasis. As for Claire Forlani… her work in Magicians made me reevaluate my opinion of her. I kept stopping myself, realizing it was really Claire Forlani (she has short hair instead of the regular long–and her acting is good). Only Schweiger is bad. He’s funny at the beginning, but he gets old fast. Even though Magicians is absurd, his handle on the character is just too loose. And his uncanny resemblance to Leonardo DiCaprio only makes things worse. The character does have a great scene at the beginning–before it’s revealed he’s a bit of a twit, which Schweiger can’t handle–and one towards the end, when he has to stop acting like a twit.

Merendino’s script is deceptively simple. It’s inventive and intelligent, giving perfect little moments to characters–Arkin in particular. When it gets to the end, after some really funny scenes and some great low budget filmmaking, Magicians has developed into a touching story about friendship. Then, for the close–which is great–it finally becomes about magic. And wonderment. It’s a great close. It’s appalling this film doesn’t have an acceptable DVD release.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Written and directed by James Merendino; director of photography, Thomas L. Callaway; edited by Esther P. Russell; music by Elmo Weber; produced by Sam Maydew and Peter Ward; released by Pop Art Films.

Starring Til Schweiger (Max), Claire Forlani (Lydia), Fabrizio Bentivoglio (Hugo), Alan Arkin (Milo), Chi McBride (Tom) and Christopher McDonald (Jake).


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