The premise is that of a dummy slowly taking over the personality of its ventriloquist-master. In adapting his own best-seller, William Goldman has opted for an atmospheric thriller, a mood director Richard Attenborough fleshes out to its fullest.
The dilemma of Magic is that the results never live up to the standards established in the film’s opening half-hour. Through flashbacks and claustrophic editing, the relationship between Anthony Hopkins and his eerily-realistic dummy, Fats, is well-documented. So is the introduction of Burgess Meredith, well cast as a Swifty Lazar-type of superagent.
When Hopkins declines a lucrative TV contract because of insecurity, and flees to his boyhood Catskills home, where a high school girl on whom he had a crush (Ann-Margret) is enmeshed in a disastrous marriage to redneck Ed Lauter, Magic becomes disappointingly transparent. Goldman has Hopkins becoming involved in the standard love triangle that inevitably leads to disaster for all parties concerned.
The ventriloquism and magic stunts are expertly done by Hopkins, with the aid of tech advisor Dennis Alwood.
But as the Meredith character notes early on, ‘Magic is misdirection’. That sentiment applies equally to the film.