Fast-Paised review: 'The Illusionist'

2 stars (out of four)

In turn-of-the-century Vienna, stage magician Eisenheim (Edward Norton) is under investigation by a persistent inspector (Paul Giamatti) who wants to understand how his tricks are done.

Big question: With two of today's finest actors onboard, how can "The Illusionist" not be pure magic?

Skip it: "The Illusionist" doesn't reveal much about Eisenheim, which--aside from knowing how he can make an orange tree grow from an empty bucket--is what inquisitive minds really want to know. Besides, a movie magician whose illusions are just special effects deprives us the thrill that comes from seeing magic in person: wondering how the trick is done.

Catch it: If you're looking for a cheap, curly fake mustache. Based on the ridiculous appearances of the cast, there appears to have been a sale.

Bottom line: Norton needs to read his scripts all the way through; his last film, "Down in the Valley," had a crash-and-burn ending, and "The Illusionist" runs out of story about an hour before it ends. Even when the movie tries to pull a fast one, like most illusions, the explanation is nowhere near as intriguing as the deception.

Bonus: We've had enough of David Blaine's games of endurance. Maybe he'll see "The Illusionist" and start doing magic tricks again!

Matt Pais is the metromix movies producer.

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'The Illusionist'

Written and directed by Neil Burger, adapted from the short story by Steven Millhauser; cinematography by Dick Pope; edited by Naomi Geraghty; production design by Ondrej Nekvasil; music by Philip Glass; produced by Michael London, Brian Koppelman, David Levien, Bob Yari and Cathy Schulman. A Yari Film Group release; opens Friday at the AMC River East, Kerasotes Webster Place and the Century Evanston theaters. Running time: 1:49. MPAA rating: PG-13 (for some sexuality and violence).

Eisenheim - Edward Norton

Chief Inspector Uhl - Paul Giamatti

Sophie von Teschen - Jessica Biel

Crown Prince Leopold - Rufus Sewell

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