Reviewer: Charity Bishop
Truth is often stranger than fiction... but the History Channel has decided to spice up Houdini's life with a bit of espionage. The miniseries opens with a disclaimer that some of it is truth, and some of it is fiction, and invites the audience to tell the difference.
Harry Houdini (Adrien Brody) is the greatest escape artist in the world, but it was not always so. He started out a child musician who became a contortionist, who traveled with a circus and met and married his beautiful wife, Bess (Kristen Connolly). He starts out by asking police captains to lock him in handcuffs and put him in their securest cell ... and his fame starts to grow, bringing him into contact with royalty, famous authors, and all the best sorts of people.
When he starts a European tour, the American Government asks him to do something for them ... something that might be more dangerous than his underwater escape antics...
From his meeting with the Czar of Russia and making the Russian bells ring to his friendship-rivalry with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, this miniseries approaches one of history's more unique men with great visual splendor and enthusiasm. Brody is much taller than the real Houdini, but the perfect choice -- an actor with the range, emotional expressiveness, and likability to play a master showman who is forever torn between his need for public affirmation and his impulsive desire for ever more heightened dangerous stunts. The miniseries underwent a couple of rewrites and the addition of a voice-over; it flutters back and forth between the past and present, as it gives us flashbacks and futuristic glimpses, the result being that it's a little tricky to navigate at first but knows how to hook and hold onto its audience.
Why Houdini was made a spy of sorts is beyond me, although it does provide for some on-screen fun ... when he becomes locked in a German safe while trying to steal war documents. It also touches on his recklessness and cleverness, and shows us how some of his stunts were pulled off. It reveals the ups and downs of his marriage to Bess and charges into his feud with various spiritualists with enthusiasm, yet I couldn't help wishing it was cleaner. On several occasions, we're prey to various bedroom scenes and a little bit of kink, which seems oddly displaced. Still, it's quite well done (if a bit melodramatic ... it's no wonder Doyle thought Houdini had supernatural powers) and made me interested in the real man, which is what a good biopic is supposed to do.
Two brief sex scenes (movement, noise); a woman comes on to a man and touches him inappropriately (below camera), then reveals herself to him -- he orders her to leave; a man and woman start in on kink (handcuffs, blindfolds, etc) but he loses interest; a woman puts a man's hand between her legs during a séance. All of these scenes are adulterous.
Profanities and some abuse of deity.
A man invites people to punch him in the stomach, to show off his strong stomach muscles; we see the internal damage this does to his appendix; he almost drowns once.
Houdini becomes fascinated with the occult and debunking spiritualists, so he attends a number of séances in which channeling and other weird stuff transpire; after his death, his wife attempts to communicate with him.