Schlocktoberfest #20: Magic
Ventriloquist dummies are fucking creepy. Especially when they look like Anthony Hopkins. No offense, Sir Antny, but you’ve aged gracefully. In your youth that bulbous nose made you look like the guy on the table in the game of Operation. You worked best when full of rage as in The Lion in Winter. In Magic he plays Corky- an unfortunate, but fitting nickname for a stumbling stage magician.
When we first meet him, he’s sweating on stage as gets heckled; later he tells his bed-ridden mentor a different story. Everything changes when he brings Fats, a creepy ventriloquist dummy, into his act. Fats is a heckler himself, and says things a person could never get away with. Corky may be a nervous, pathetic little man but Fats becomes the conduit for his inner rage, which he focuses on the audience and himself, berating and belittling with that familiar, vulgar childish fury that performers imbue their little homunculi with. That’s the power of a puppet- we can accept its vitriol without violence.
Corky is immediately catapulted to his 15 minutes of fame, and his agent, Burgess Meredith, lines him up for his own network show- but the network wants to give him a physical. Corky refuses. A doctor- or anyone who spends enough time with his off-stage persona- can tell that he is rather emotionally unhinged, and needs Fats. The little dummy is both a blow-off valve and a constant henpecker, who reinforces Corky’s self-loathing. They’re symbiotes, and the Fats personality is getting stronger as the shackles of fame and the shames of his past weigh more heavily on Corky.
To avoid dealing with the pressure, he holes himself up at the home of a former high school crush, played by Ann-Margret. She has her own problems- trapped in a loveless marriage, she’s delighted when he shows up, and hubby is none the wiser. She needs a man, and he needs a dummy… together they feel they can throw off their crutches and flee, but both their shoulder-monkeys have other plans. The “Fats” side of Corky’s personality won’t be shuttered, and begins acting out. And seeing a creepy mini-me version of Hopkins doing it, well, that’s pretty damn eerie.
Hopkins is great as usual; his “id” manifests itself through the vile personality of Fats, but we never get to see Corky look relatively normal or sane or sympathetic, so the film didn’t work that well for me. He’s got a great squeaky voice created by Hopkins, but he sort of just appears on stage one day and suddenly Hopkins is nuts. The movie is certainly enjoyable, especially with Ann-Margret and Meredith supporting, but unless you’re really creeped out by ventriloquist dummies it’s not much of a shocker. As a psychological thriller, it works more as a character study of a sad little man who acts out his ugly inner self through Fats, and has it take over his life. Interesting, but hardly essential.