Despite the fact that the movie is well acted, especially
in the latter half, the dramatic flow of TNT's Houdini is disrupted by the constant
use of flashbacks and an emphasis on the illusionist's supposed obsession with reaching
his mother in the hereafter.
The movie, like the man, becomes too engrossed in a crusade
against spiritual mediums, whom Houdini regarded as charlatans. Unfortunately, the drama
suffers, since those obsessions don't make for great television. Actually, contrary to
what this drama would have us believe, some reference sources say Houdini wasn't all that
obsessed with his dead mother.
But that emphasis isn't too surprising, given the
producers' and director's predilection for the spirit world. Pen Densham, Houdini's
director, and co-executive producers Richard Barton Lewis, Mark Stern and John Watson are
the creative forces behind Showtime's series Poltergeist: The Legacy.
Young Johnathon Schaech fresh from the lighter film That
Thing You Do as Houdini and Stacy Edwards as his wife, Bess, handle their roles
quite well, particularly as they age. And Mark Ruffalo as brother Theo has his best
moments near the conclusion.
Schaech's recreations of Houdini's various escapes
notably when wrapped in chains and submerged in water-filled tanks capture much of
the excitement that the real showman must have generated.
Though largely a love story, this movie tells us little
about Bess. As she herself says toward the film's end, "I had dreams, too,"
which she gave up to pursue his. When they met as teenagers at an audition, she'd wanted
to become a singer. Gradually, upset by Houdini's quest for ever-riskier escapes, Bess
takes refuge in drinking.
Other daring episodes from Houdini's life that might have
helped the movie are surprisingly omitted among them that he was a pioneer aviator,
the first person to fly to Australia (1910).
For 10 years after his death at age 52, Bess seeks
Houdini's spirit at annual Halloween séances. At the last one, in 1936, Houdini's spirit
tries to communicate with Bess in a scene right out of the film Ghost.
Houdini, after bowing Dec. 6 at 8 p.m. (ET), will
repeat seven times through Dec. 19.