If those unavoidable Mac ads were damaging to the credibility of ‘Peep Show’ comedians David Mitchell and Robert Webb, this could be the fatal blow. And yet the pair’s saving grace may well be that their first feature film outing is more forgettable than disgraceful. Where ‘Peep Show’ traded on formal invention and discomforting gags, ‘Magicians’ is utterly, utterly conventional – a limp reflection of the duo’s ‘Peep Show’ personas dumped in an uninspiring, faintly amusing story. They are Harry and Karl, formerly a successful magic duo until Harry (Mitchell) accidentally slices off his wife’s head while performing a guillotine trick immediately after discovering her in flagrante with Karl, causing an inevitable parting of the ways. Four years down the line, needs must and Harry persuades Karl that they should reform and enter the Magic Table Shield, the Olympics for washed-up British magicians who are trying to squeeze a laugh from tired cock jokes and lazy tricks. When the reunion goes badly, each must enter the contest alone, forcing Karl to update and adopt a Derren Brown/Paul McKenna-style act and Harry to conquer his understandable fear of resurrecting the guillotine act.
As in ‘Peep Show’, whose creators Jesse Armstrong and Sam Bain wrote the script, unlikely relationships with women drive the plot: Harry recruits as his assistant Linda (Jessica Stevenson), a pal from his days working in a supermarket, while Karl tries to impress his admirer, Dani (Andrea Riseborough) by pretending to possess the powers of a medium even in the bedroom. There are some duff characters – Karl’s manager, Otto (Darren Boyd) falls flat – and there’s the odd laugh, but ‘Magicians’ mostly plays like ‘Peep Show’ with its testicles lopped off.