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.
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 SewellCopyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times