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An Honest Liar

At age 86, “The Amazing” James Randi has charisma to spare. Possessed of twinkling eyes, a quicksilver wit and a veteran showman’s way with a story, he makes you want to believe and surrender to him, even if everything he’s telling you is part of the act. But that’s the foundation of both his appeal and this film’s smoke-and-mirrors agenda: Randi is a man whose trickery is employed at the service of exposing our vulnerability to being taken for fools.

A carnival-bound refugee from Toronto at an early age, Randi dedicated himself to learning every escape trick practised by the great Harry Houdini. But when health, age and a close call or two make Randi consider a break with the escape business, he takes up another calling with a fervour. Determined to expose the trickery behind religious faith healers, bogus psychics and other people he believes are in the business of exploiting people’s need to believe that magic and miracles are real, Randi sets out to expose the game.

The role not only lands Randi serially on Johnny Carson’s couch, the set of Happy Days and Alice Cooper’s Billion Dollar Babies tour, but also firmly in the headlines. Taking particular umbrage with millionaire fundamentalist faith healer Peter Popoff, and talk-show spoon-bender/“mentalist” Uri Geller, Randi devises scams in the name of truth that are every bit as dramatic as what they expose.

His exploits are are documented at length in An Honest Liar, for they are the incidents that bring home the paradox of the title. The ultimate question in An Honest Liar is whether it’s possible to know so much about the method behind the magic without being fooled into believing your own act.

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