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R: ARCHIVE, S: REVIEWS, D: 06/12/1997,

Rough Magic

"There's a fine line between magic and illusion," says the Great Ivan (Kenneth Mars) in Clare Peploe's ambitious but clumsy film. Like a thaumaturge who's blown a trick, Peploe gives away the illusion and subverts the magic. What's left is a rough draft of an intriguing movie.

Bridget Fonda is luminous as Myra, Ivan's tough-cookie assistant in a whimsically envisioned 1950s LA. Although she sleazily promotes the show by pulling bunnies out of men's pockets, Ivan knows she has "the gift," so he's furious when senatorial candidate and uranium-mine heir Cliff (D.W. Moffett) decides to marry her to further his political ambitions. In a clever dressing-room fracas, Cliff shoots Ivan; Myra flees to Mexico, and Cliff hires down-and-out WW2 vet Alex (Christopher Crowe, sounding more like Mel Gibson than Philip Marlowe) to find her.

The film shifts with an increasing grinding of gears from Raymond Chandler to Graham Greene to Frank Capra to Gabriel García Márquez as Myra and Alex fall in love and she sets out with snake-oil salesman Jim Broadbent to find a shaman's potion. With that the movie loses control; when the dog starts talking, Peploe's Magic has run out. At the Nickelodeon and in the suburbs.

-- Peter Keough