A review of “An Honest Liar,” a documentary about magician-turned-truth-teller James “The Amazing” Randi. Rating: 3 stars out of 4.
“No matter how smart or well-educated you are, you can be deceived,” says James “The Amazing” Randi, himself a master deceiver. In Justin Weinstein and Tyler Measom’s entertaining documentary “An Honest Liar,” we come to know Randi, a genial gentleman in his 80s with a puff of white beard and a folksy way of speaking. A magician and escape artist in his youth — he idolized Harry Houdini — Randi in midcareer turned his focus from performing to exposing. Enraged by how self-professed faith healers and psychics used magician’s tricks to deceive and take money from audiences, he dedicated himself to revealing such fraud, through a series of investigations and hoaxes.
“They’re not magicians,” he says scornfully in the film, of spoon-bender Uri Geller and the like. “They’re fakes.”
Randi’s a sly charmer, and an engaging guide through the film, which traces some of his career highlights: an on-camera stumping of Geller as Johnny Carson looked on; a debunking of the faith healer/televangelist Peter Popoff (whose “miraculous” ability to know facts about his audience had much to do with a radio receiver parked in his ear); the creation of a fake 2,000-year-old guru named Carlos, as an answer to the popular “channelers” of the 1980s. Other voices, such as magicians Penn and Teller and musician Alice Cooper (for whom Randi — who thought he’d been hired by a woman — created illusions for his stage show), add perspective.
Movie Review ★★★
‘An Honest Liar,’ a documentary directed by Justin Weinstein and Tyler Measom. 92 minutes. Not rated; for mature audiences. Northwest Film Forum, through Thursday.
And then, in its last act, “An Honest Liar” takes us someplace unexpected: There’s a twist, in Randi’s personal life (he’s in a long-term relationship with a younger man, who had posed as “Carlos”), that leaves the audience wondering what, exactly, the truth is. Was The Amazing Randi himself deceived? Or was he part of a deception? Regardless, it seems that, by the film’s final frames, even professional skeptics can be transformed by the magic of love.
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