A renowned magician spends much of his life’s first 80 years exposing fraud and deception, then later proves to have a secret or two up his own sleeve. It’s an interesting premise for a movie that might have unfolded better than it does in Tyler Measom and Justin Weinstein’s documentary, but there’s more than enough here to keep you engaged.
One surprise is held for a climactic revelation while the other is obvious early on– sooner to some viewers than others– when Randall Zwinge, better known as The Amazing Randi, then in his fifties, enlists “Puerto Rican teenager” Jose Alvarez to aid him in exposing a hoax for 60 Minutes Australia. Jose soon moves in with Randi, starting a relationship that has endured more than a quarter of a century.
The Toronto-born Randi was inspired to become a magician by seeing The Great Blackstone at an early age. He patterned his own act, with escapes from straitjackets, water tanks and such, on that of Harry Houdini. “Magicians are the most honest people in the world,” Randi says. “They tell you they’re going to fool you, and then they do it.”
While deception is a magician’s stock in trade, Randi draws a line between doing it for entertainment and doing it in a way that might hurt people– physically, emotionally or financially– even though profit and self-aggrandizement may accrue in both cases. After retiring as a musician, he became well-known as a skeptic and debunker of paranormal claims: His most publicized exposés involved spoon-bending “mentalist” Uri Geller and “faith healer” Peter Popoff.
Although there’s a lot of talk about duplicating the illusions of Geller and others, it’s disappointing that An Honest Liar doesn’t reveal how a single trick is done, except for Popoff’s “mind reading.” As for Randi, as a product of his generation he feared that coming out as gay would ultimately damage his credibility, so he waited until he was 81 to do it. As this was more harmful to himself than anyone else, it shouldn’t be considered hypocrisy.
An Honest Liar is laden with clips of Randi’s TV appearances with Johnny Carson and others, dating back to a ‘50s bit where he makes a perfectly-timed exit from a straitjacket while he’s hanging upside down and a female vocalist (who is misidentified in the credits) sings “The Magic Touch.” –Steve Warren
RATING: Not Rated (Some mild language)
DIRECTED BY: Tyler Measom & Justin Weinstein
STUDIO: Flim Flam Films