Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Penn & Teller Get Killed (1989)

Simultaneously a madcap farce and a commercial for Penn & Teller's stage act, this black comedy has the titular duo of magicians running away from psychopaths after Penn states, on television, how exciting he'd find it if men were out to kill him. The narrative is treated as importantly as the duo, with their detached wit, treat anything, that is to say, not at all; once the initial conceit is established, the film is, essentially, a revolving door of scenarios, characters, and magic acts tenuously held together with scenes of Penn & Teller facing imminent death. There are a number of allusions to their stage personas, obviously egging you on to pursue their further work: several tricks are revealed to the audience, Teller has a showy response to cornier, "rabbit-in-the-hat" magicians, and many of Penn's particular sensibilities and interests are highlighted, seemingly for no narrative purpose. The two are funny, but Teller comes out looking better in the end because a. his endearing appearance is more suited for film comedy, b. his physical humor and sense of timing are impeccable, and c. the majority of Penn's lines are contrived, terrible, and often contradictory. His "romantic interest," if you could call her that, is hokey and obviously invented, and their scenes together are a fantastic drag. David Patrick Kelly, as the main psycho out for Penn & Teller's blood, is actually hilarious in his short screen time, but the convoluted "plot" often leaves him without a clear motivation for his character. The ending, with its final reveals and dark punchlines, is actually the most noteworthy scene of the film, with its moral and thematic ambiguity, its relentless bleakness, and its progressive, over-the-top tone, unmatched at any other point in the film.

Skip It, save for diehard fans of late '80s dark comedies or Penn & Teller. This one was directed by Hollywood legend Arthur Penn; this clumsy, directionless piece of work doesn't exhibit his talents.

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