The World’s Greatest Magic IV

Featuring: Lance Burton, Juliana Chen, Lennart Green, Max Maven, Mac King, Sherry Lukas, Kirby VanBurch, Tim Kole and Jenny-Lynn, Tabary, Carl Cloutier, Ayala and Lilia, The Hamners, Raymond Crowe, Jonathan David Bass, Rick Thomas, Bruce Bock, Ken Mate.

With:
Host: John Ritter.

Featuring: Lance Burton, Juliana Chen, Lennart Green, Max Maven, Mac King, Sherry Lukas, Kirby VanBurch, Tim Kole and Jenny-Lynn, Tabary, Carl Cloutier, Ayala and Lilia, The Hamners, Raymond Crowe, Jonathan David Bass, Rick Thomas, Bruce Bock, Ken Mate.

Fourth special of top magic acts from around the globe plays a lot like the first three, serving up an intriguing blend of the fabulous and the fatuous, the incredible and the irritating. Women turn into leopards. Men escape buzzsaws. And everywhere you turn, somebody is forcing something (or someone) to disappear. Most astounding of all, John Ritter has been made to reappear on TV — as the host.

The chief mistake made by “World’s Greatest Magic IV” is that it tends to present everything with a Vegas-y, gee-whiz sheen of cheesy camp rather than the dignified air of a magic club. A few times, magicians are even obliged to perform tricks slowly and reveal the secret for the benefit of all we morons following along at home.

Yet if we can get past the idea that the very nature of magic is cheapened — and made somehow less remarkable — when viewed through the lens of a video camera, there are some pretty impressive moments during this two-hour orgy of stunt and illusion.

Among the niftier acts is one performed by Chinese manipulation expert Juliana Chen, who is so adept at flipping cards from her sleeve that they literally take flight into the audience. And a Swedish card magician named Lennart Green shows us his talent for picking up cards, blindly and at random, and separating them by suit and in numerical order with a speed that must be seen to be believed.

Lance Burton’s scene-stealing “Jaws of Death” conclusion in which he extricates his shackled body from a car that’s about to be pulverized into metal fragments is likewise a terrific piece of business. Some of the other smoke-and-mirrors material proves almost equally entertaining.

But far too much lameness also resides inside “World’s Greatest Magic IV.” Begin with Ritter’s forced (if self-deprecating) hosting stint. He tends to treat the gig like Las Vegas Night at Temple Beth El (“So, are ya ready to be boggled?”). He’s reduced to a Janet and Chrissy joke before the show is even five minutes old. Not a swift career move.

Turk Pipkin’s script inserts far too many “Watch closely, the camera will not cut away” pronouncements. As if we’re all going to sit there and tolerate a magic show sporting heavily-edited illusion.

Director Kent Weed is further guilty of shortchanging the audience on the closeups. If we’re all trying to figure out how the blasted joke is done, there is no such thing as keeping a respectful distance. We want to be in the magician’s face. And if we can spot the precise moment where sleight-of-hand becomes sight-of-hand, hey, that’s all part of the fun. At least, it should be.

Most cloying of all is a moment in which magician Mac King performs a trick alongside “Baywatch’s” Traci Bingham, who shakes her gravity-defying chest and purrs to Mac that being able to do magic has made her a lot more popular with men. Or something like that.

For “World’s Greatest Magic V,” perhaps Mac can work on making Traci’s brain reappear — although that might not sit quite so well with the guys.

The World's Greatest Magic IV

(Wednesday (26), 8-10 p.m., NBC)

Production: Taped in Las Vegas, Nev.; Bakersfield, Ca.; and Branson, Mo., by the Gary L. Pudney Co. in association with Hearst Entertainment. Executive producer, Gary L. Pudney; producers, Gregory Sills, Gary Ouellet; director, Kent Weed; writer, Turk Pipkin; lighting designer, Simon Miles.

Crew: Editor, Greg Byers; sound, Evan Adelman.

Cast: Host: John Ritter.lighting designer, Simon Miles; editor, Greg Byers; sound, Evan Adelman.

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