By Fred Topel | Image property of Universal Pictures
Death Defying Acts
Well, Death Defying Acts opens impressively with a long take of Guy Pearce really holding his breath. Of course, this is not a biography of Harry Houdini so such thrills are only minor touches in an otherwise banal period piece.
Review: Death Defying Acts
Houdini (Pearce) sets forth a booty of $10,000 to anyone who can psychically read the last words of his mother on her deathbed. So a local psychic (Catherine Zeta-Jones) and her daughter (Soirse Ronan) try to scam him. Sparks fly, love is in the air and blah blah blah.
There are some good Houdini acts and even some of the fake psychic routines are interesting on the level of mechanics. It's fun to see how they dupe a suggestive audience. Getting to see Houdini as a d*ck and the real aftermath of some of his spectacles is also cool, but that's not the movie.
The whole movie is basically about these psychics trying to steal a peak into the sealed envelope with the last words. That's hardly a compelling drama. Ooh, if only we can cheat, we'll make our money. But it's so hard to cheat because of all this security. It's not even a heist movie, it's just failed attempts.
Also, Houdini's mom… who cares? So he had mommy issues and guilt. I'd rather see another rehash of what a great showman Harry Houdini was. At least that's compelling.
There's romantic tension, will the con artist have a heart, the poor get to play in the rich world, flirtation and deception. Really it's just a contrived story, even if it is true.
Pearce is great. He has the flair and charisma for the part. Zeta-Jones is the typical period girl. By that I mean, costume drama, not the other kind of period girl. Will she follow her heart or her head? Now I understand why actresses are frustrated by the lack of good roles. Ronan gives a counterpoint to Atonement, showing she can be precious without being snobby.
Peppered with stunts, Death Defying Acts may be tolerable but it's kind of an inconsequential personal story. It's like they took the least interesting part of Houdini's life and made a movie about that.