Directors: Tyler Measom & Justin Weinstein
Writers: Tyler Measom, Greg O’Toole & Justin Weinstein
Subjects: James Randi, Jose Alvarez, Steve Shaw, Michael Edwards, Ray Hyman, Alice Cooper, Alec Jason, Uri Geller, Penn & Teller, Bill Nye, Adam Savage, Michael Shermer, Jamy Ian Swiss, Prof. Richard Wiseman
No MPAA rating
Running time: 1 hour 30 minutes
IMDB page: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2246565
Plot: Documentary about James “The Amazing” Randi, the magician who has dedicated his life to exposing fraud among those claiming paranormal abilities.
The Amazing Randi is known to most people (of a certain age) as the guy who lifted the curtain on spoon-bending “psychic” Uri Geller and TV evangelist Peter Popoff, revealing their dishonest methods on outlets like The Tonight Show. With the help of various assistants, Randi has been embarrassing charlatans and their enablers for four decades. The diminutive, 80-something magician, who looks like a Tolkien wizard, has become a legend in the skeptics’ subculture.
His own life has its share of mysteries, and Measom and Weinstein dig deep, but not enough to hurt anyone. The same can’t always be said of Randi himself, who often stays in the background while engineering hoaxes designed to teach people a lesson. Academics researching parapsychology should use more rigid methods, but proteges Shaw and Edwards spent months tricking Washington University staff into believing their psychic “powers” were genuine during the infamous Project Alpha study.
The ethical issues raised by these stunts get a cursory look, and Edwards especially seems to feel badly about making sincere, decent people look like fools, essentially ruining their careers. Randi is less regretful, and quick to point out that he gives his targets every opportunity to confront the problem. It’s a tough subject, and one that still causes friction among his fans.
Nevertheless, Randi’s primary motives come across as altruistic. He is appalled at the way desperate people are exploited by mediums, faith healers, homeopaths, and the like, who make millions peddling nonsense. Randi does well financially, but he would undoubtedly be much richer if his own lies weren’t so damn honest.
The final third of An Honest Liar concerns Randi’s private life, specifically revelations about his longtime partner (now husband), Jose Alvarez. This story would make a fascinating movie by itself, and illustrates, better than anything else in the film, that Randi’s values are as complicated and thought-provoking as any trick he’s ever performed. 5-29-15