“Desperate Acts of Magic” can be described as a film that does for the world of professional magicians what “The Wrestler” did for another spectator pastime based on illusion. Despite its lighter tone, it probes the depths of a subculture that clearly rests on the foundations of insecure egos just as wrestling depends on beefed up bodies.
We meet the main character Jason Kant at a meeting of coworkers at the I.T. company where he works as a database administrator, a position I held for over a decade while I pursued my own kinds of illusions after working hours. Jason’s head and heart is not really in databases. It is in magic. While the meeting is going over technical matters, Jason minds start to drift toward the coin trick he has been perfecting. While manipulating it between two fingers, he accidentally propels it across the conference table and into the blouse of a co-worker and between her breasts.
The next day he is fired and forced to follow his true passion. Watching this scene made me wonder if I had been better off being fired myself long ago. While leaving the office with his belongings, he runs into a beautiful woman working as a shill for a three-card monte dealer who picks his wallet.
That night she calls him up to let him know that she went to magic camp with him long ago and would like to have dinner with him to get a handle on the magic scene in L.A. He only figures out later in the restaurant that she is the person who picked his wallet. When the bill comes for the meal, she picks the wallet of the guy at the next table to pay for it.
While wary of her criminal side, Jason finds her irresistibly beautiful. He explains to her that he is turning pro and needs someone to work as his assistant. She bristles at the suggestion, telling him that there is nothing more sexist than women serving as a male magician’s assistant in a Playboy Bunny outfit. A day later he meets up with her and says that he wants her to be his partner and not just his assistant. Furthermore, the magic act will be a satire on sexism in the business that features a climactic trick that drives the point home. Despite her initial interest in working with him, tensions mar the professional relationship—not to speak of his jealousy over what he perceives as her preference for a more successful magician who is his best friend.
Jason is played and directed by Joe Gold who knows this world inside out from his experience as a professional magician performing at over 500 kids’ birthday parties, and entering numerous magic competitions. He bears a striking resemblance to Steve Carell who is cast (overcast actually) as nerdy losers. I can’t imagine Carell doing a better job of playing Jason Kant, a nerdy loser in just about all aspects of life besides magic.
While not as ambitious as “The Prestige”, “Desperate Acts of Magic” is much more realistic about the lives of professional magicians. I can’t say that I am an expert on this world but I probably know a bit more about it since my wife’s nephew, who is now studying film in the U.S., was one of Turkey’s most successful teen magicians. Mostly out of my connections to him, I have tried to see any film that comes my way about magicians, just to send him the screener when I am done. If you have ever dabbled in magic yourself or if you simply want to see a well-written and well-directed character-driven romantic comedy, check out “Desperate Acts of Magic” that opens today at the Quad Cinema in N.Y. and at the Laemmle in Los Angeles on May 10th.