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  Penn and Teller Get Killed Nothing Up Their Sleeves
Year: 1989
Director: Arthur Penn
Stars: Penn Jillette, Teller, Caitlin Clarke, David Patrick Kelly, Leonardo Cimino, Ted Neustadt, Jon Cryer, Camille Saviola, Madison Arnold, Paul Calderon, James Randi, Tom Sizemore, Reg E. Cathey, Alan North, Matthew Penn
Genre: ComedyBuy from Amazon
Rating:  5 (from 1 vote)
Review: Magicians Penn Jillette and Teller (as themselves) are appearing on a talk show and performing an act especially written for the broadcast where they are hung upside down, but the camera is turned to make it look to the viewers at home that they are the right way up. They are a roaring success with the audience as they perform card tricks and various others, then at the climax of the act they are let down to chat with the host, the right way up. In the course of the kidding conversation, Penn announces that he would like to have his life spiced up by death threats: but he should be careful what he wishes for...

Penn and Teller had already made a name for themselves as two of the best magicians of their day by the time this film was released, but their movie outing remains obscure in comparison with their other, more celebrated television efforts. The film was never a runaway success, but it does have its fans, mostly those who were well disposed towards the duo in the first place, yet watching it you can see why it never really caught on. It's like having a conversation with someone who keeps telling you that something very serious has happened to them, then a minute later will laugh in your face and inform you they were only joking. For about an hour and a half.

Not that Penn and Teller do much gloating, but as the writers they seem to have an agenda: don't believe everything you see and hear. For entertainers who are pleased to fool audiences with their tricks, they have a curious split personailty in that they are equally keen not to allow the audience to have the wool pulled over their eyes, and early in their career they became notorious for giving away their secrets - not all of them, mind you, but a fair few. The plot of this goes the same way, with the double act getting into various sticky situations due to Penn's foolhardy exclamation on live television, followed by a big reveal.

So Penn will, for example, be accosted at the airport by a religious nut who pulls a gun on him, but it's OK because it's not a real gun and he was only making a somewhat crazed point. That's a minor example of the kind of business you should expect here, as the plot may be heading towards a pitch black punchline, but that denouement is still a cheat because it still doesn't live up to the title - not that there would be many actually wanting the stars to die, of course, and certainly not for the sake of a movie they were appearing in. It does mean that you can suss them out early on as no matter what situation they get involved in, you won't be buying it after a short while.

So even that punchline, presumably supposed to be a big shocker, and undoubtedly a bleak way to end a comedy depending on your sense of humour, is a joke on the audience. Before that, everything from Teller pulling pranks on Penn such as placing metal objects in his pockets as he goes through the airport metal detector to a bunch of gangsters associated with bogus faith healers arriving to menace our heroes, is not likely to make the viewer too trusting of what they are watching, whether they are allowed in on the gag or not. There are some decent laughs, as you might expect, with a fight in a casino particularly surreal, but overall the whole film comes across as too insincere: they mean the stuff that you should not take everything on face value, but if you didn't do that then nobody would ever be impressed by their tricks. Teller does talk, though. Music by Paul Chihara.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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Arthur Penn  (1922 - 2010)

American theatre and film director whose depiction of the rebellious character in movies found its most celebrated example in Bonnie and Clyde, which was hugely important in ushering in a new style of Hollywood film, not to mention new styles in Hollywood violence. Before that he had helmed psychological Billy the Kid story The Left Handed Gun, the much acclaimed The Miracle Worker, and Warren Beatty-starring experimental flop Mickey One, which nevertheless led to the both of them making the gangster movie that was so influential.

After that, Penn moved back and forth from film to theatre, with album adaptation Alice's Restaurant, revisionist Westerns Little Big Man and The Missouri Breaks, and cult thriller Night Moves among the films that sustained his following. Others included Marlon Brando melodrama The Chase, Four Friends, gothic thriller Dead of Winter, and Penn and Teller Get Killed.

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