By Sherrie Li
By Falling James
By Amanda Lewis
By Amy Nicholson
By Amy Nicholson
By Jennifer Swann
By Scott Foundas
By Sherrie Li
Tucci is fine, but except for a hysterical outburst or a ripely worded oration or two, the script gives him not much more to do than get white-haired. Headly, as a kind of mistress-cum-narrative-convenience whom we meet naked in a bathtub full of hooch, I will turn up for anytime, in or out of a bathtub, and though I was happy to see, as Mrs. Winchell, Megan Mullally, who is so delightful as Karen on the soundly constituted Will & Grace, the film pays no more attention to her than Winchell seems to have.
Another Jewish boy who succeeded in the American century gets the little-screen treatment in TNT’s Houdini, the third movie to be made about the David Copperfield of his generation (Ehrich Weiss by actual name). As cinematic meat Houdini is, of course, prime; he did fabulous, physical, theatrical things in colorful surroundings: escaping from escape-proof prisons, hanging straitjacketed outside skyscrapers, struggling for air in the Chinese Water Torture Cell. He was also kind enough to provide future interpreters of his life and legend with a solid love interest, a semiviolent premature demise and an occult side-story, having arranged to try to contact his wife from beyond the grave.
Johnathon Schaech (That Thing You Do!, the just-released Welcome to Woop Woop) has the right body and dark vibe for the role, and he’s well accompanied by Chicago Hope’s Stacy Edwards as Bess Houdini, and George Segal — who has apparently determined to spend the rest of his acting career just having fun — as producer Martin Beck, with David Warner, Paul Sorvino, Judy Geeson, Rhea Pearlman and Ron Perlman along for very good measure. Written and directed by one Pen Densham (who also made the Robin Wright Moll Flanders), the story is nicely framed by a dark and stormy Halloween-night séance, and if it trucks in show-biz cliché and suffers from the usual biopictorial compression of characters and chronology, from goofy age-making appliances, and from dialogue that at times seems itself to have escaped, like Harry used to, from a locked and bolted milk can, it compensates adequately with its sweet tone, leisurely development, regard for the human business of history, nifty magic tricks, and frankly daffy conclusion. Given the relative scrupulousness of what comes before, I could not have predicted the final 15 minutes, in which even the loosest standards of the "true story" are not only violated, but handcuffed, wrapped in chains and thrown in the river. Which might be bad biography — but I can’t say it isn’t good show business.
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