The greatest escapologist of all time, Harry Houdini led a life of dazzling feats. So it’s quite an achievement on the part of director Gillian Armstrong and her writers to have produced a film about him so mind-numbingly dull. Rather than draw on the rich reality of his life, Death Defying Acts invents an encounter in 1926 Edinburgh between Houdini (Guy Pearce) and a small-time fake psychic, Mary McGarvie (Catherine Zeta-Jones). It’s a contrived and unbelievable tale, not helped by a total lack of chemistry between the leads. Saoirse Ronan, who was superb as the malicious young Briony in Atonement, gets a nothing role as Mary’s accomplice/daughter and even Timothy Spall (Harry’s manager) can’t raise the interest. It all looks pretty enough – but well before the end you’ll be plotting your escape.
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