Review: ‘The Magician’

A talkative Melbourne hitman and his long-suffering marks are engaging company in "The Magician," an Aussie mockumentary cut from the same cloth as Belgian cult item "Man Bites Dog" (1992). Pic looks armed with sufficient comic bull's-eyes and laid-back charm to become a hit with the hip crowd on local release in October.

A talkative Melbourne hitman and his long-suffering marks are engaging company in “The Magician,” an Aussie mockumentary cut from the same cloth as Belgian cult item “Man Bites Dog” (1992). Lacking the latter film’s graphic violence, this opts for straight-on comedy and largely succeeds in reaching the finish line. Pic looks armed with sufficient comic bull’s-eyes and laid-back charm to become a hit with the hip crowd on local release in October. Fest assignments should help shoestring production find a niche offshore.

Pic presents 30-something Ray Shoesmith (helmer-writer Scott Ryan) as the willing subject of a student documentary being made by Max (d.p. Massimiliano Andrighetto). Having established his credentials as a ruthless trigger-man in the opening scene, Ray spends the rest of the movie as a kind of friendly tour guide, as various targets are picked up and given the chance to plead their cases.

What this typically amounts to is brief talk on crimes and misdemeanors before more lengthy (and increasingly absurd) digressions into trivial topics. Chief among the latter is the amusing idea of linking victims’ life-expectancy with their knowledge of movies. One of pic’s best moments is when a bound hostage is yanked out of a car trunk to settle an argument between Ray and Max about Clint Eastwood’s involvement, or otherwise, in “The Dirty Dozen.”

Pic revels in droll discourse on everything from the price of eating one’s own excrement to the role-model responsibilities of philandering sports stars. Reference points are primarily local, though non-Aussie auds will get the general point.

None of this would really work without a fair amount of memorable dialogue and a charismatic central performance: Debuting director Ryan is the whole show here and shows impeccable timing in milking maximum laughs from the episodic format. Though film rarely wears out its welcome, it still shows some signs of having been extended from the half-hour short shown at Oz festivals in 2003.

Production has a tech standard way above its reported $2,000 shooting budget. If anything, the occasional speck of dirt on d.p. Andrighetto’s lens only adds to the down-and-dirty appeal. Screening caught was a video projection; a transfer to 35mm is in the works.

The Magician

Australia

Production

A Hopscotch Films release of an I Will Films, Blue Tongue Films, Cherub Pictures production, in association with Film Finance Corp. Australia, Film Victoria. (International sales: MovieHouse Entertainment, London.) Produced by Michele Bennett, Nash Edgerton, Scott Ryan. Executive producers, Gary Phillips, Mark Vennis. Directed, written by Scott Ryan.

Crew

Camera (color, mini-DV), Massimiliano Andrighetto; editors, Nash Edgerton, Kristine Rowe, Scott Ryan; sound (Dolby Digital), Andrighetto. Reviewed at Sydney Film Festival, June 19, 2005. (Also in New Zealand, Edinburgh Film Festivals.) Running time: 87 MIN.

With

Scott Ryan, Ben Walker, Massimiliano Andrighetto, Kane Mason, Nathaniel Lindsay, Adam Ryan.
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