Say hello to the biggest disappointment of 2006. And that's really saying something with this summers' suckfest but what separates The Illusionist from the rest is that it actually looked like an original story (plus it isn't a sequel). However, though Norton plays the illusionist on screen, the true magician turns out to be Neil Burger who somehow manages to hide an overused love story in an imaginative preview.
Edward Norton returns to his first meaningful role since The Italian Job (Kingdom of Heaven doesn't qualify) as a talented magician named Eisenheim. As a boy he used his trickery to win the heart of his one true love Sophie (Jessica Biel), but their contrasting social classes forbid them to be together.
Years later Eisenheim, a now semi popular illusionist has made his way into Vienna where he encounters Sophie once again at one of his shows and old feelings begin to stir. Eisenheim soon learns that Sophie is with the very wealthy Crown Prince Leopold (Rufus Sewell), who quickly sees the sparks between them and sets out to discredit Eisenheim at the peak of his popularity.
This day and age the question isn't how many times we've heard this story, but rather how boring is it? Answer: Let me put it this way, I drifted off for over 20 minutes and was able to pick right back up with the story when I woke up....and still didn't care. The film puts all it's hope into minor 'plot twists' that fail miserably due to the fact (one blatantly obvious to everyone except Burger) that when you name a movie The Illusionist, very few people are going be surprised when various events turn out to be...big shocker... illusions.
As for the illusions themselves there isn't much joy to be had watching Edward Norton stare blankly into space for minutes on end with only the silence of the theater as a mood setter. And except for a few amusing tricks in the beginning, this routine quickly becomes the norm wielding a result that becomes less interesting with each occurrence and carrying a relevance to the story only half the time.
The only bright spot of the film comes from Jessica Biel who shows that she actually has a talent outside of being drop dead gorgeous. Unfortunately the rest of the cast doesn't follow her example. Edward Norton especially never gets a handle on his role and even seems bored at times, most notably during his stares which look more like he's daydreaming than concentrating. The crown prince of mediocrity Rufus Sewell continues his trend of consecutive power hungry villain roles, and Paul Giamatti chips in a forgettable performance as the good hearted police official with a moral conflict, but at least it gives us something to block out Lady in the Water with.
Let's face it, with a storyline as predictable as The Illusionist you've got to have something that's either original or eye dazzling to keep the audience entertained. This film tries both and fails on both counts.