Death Defying Acts

Posted July 21, 2008 in Film

A bungled show-stopper, this period romance starring Guy Pearce and Catherine Zeta-Jones as Harry Houdini and a fiery Scottish burlesque dancer and psychic scam artist never unleashes its magic. Zeta Jones and daughter Benji (Saoirse Ronan, a child actress with unearthly eyes and poise) are out to win a cash prize by summoning the last words of Houdini’s mother from the ether. There’s a flicker of heat when the two meet—each is turned on by the other’s trickery. But the fun is smothered when writers Tony Grisoni and Brian Ward’s script devotes itself more to the wonders of Zeta Jones’ heaving bosom than the wonders of the otherworld. The former is fine, but we’ve seen it plenty. Director Gillian Armstrong doesn’t distinguish this generic romance from a thousand other costumed bodice rippers—is a kinky handcuff scene too much to ask? We’re teased with the film’s potential in moments where Houdini is swarmed by autograph hounds and fans trying to disprove his boast than he can stomach any punch, but ultimately he’s just another momma’s boy seduced by a gold-digger—a story so typical and timeless it’s obscene that Death Defying Acts wasted its cash in authentic 1920s set decoration when it needed an investment in character. (Amy Nicholson)



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