A&E // 2006 // 440 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge David Johnson // June 27th, 2007
Are you ready?
Criss Angel, arguably the most popular magician working today, brings forth his unique sense of street magic and life-and-death "demonstrations" for a 21-episode second season run of his highly successful Mindfreak series. Escapes from shark cages, disappearing elephants, walking on water...and more!
With cameras trailing him, post-modern magic-man Criss Angel roams the premises of the Aladdin Resort and Casino in Las Vegas, performing various illusions to passersby with each episode ending with a big illusion/stunt. Intermixed with the stagecraft is the typical reality show grist -- interviews with Angel and his staff, time-filling candid footage, Angel riding around on his custom motorcycle, etc. But, really, it's all about the magic, and though there is some transparent pre-staged stuff, much of Angel's skills are amazing and add up to a supremely entertaining way to spend 20 minutes.
This show is great fun, for little else the sheer amount of bang for your buck you get with each viewing. Criss Angel is a great illusionist and even if you might be able to see through a handful of his "demonstrations," I defy you to unravel the majority of the things he does. Add to that his amiable personality and you've got yourself a worthy spectacle.
Angel dabbles primarily in street magic, where he wanders around, cameras in tow, and ambushes folks with a variety of illusions. Are any of these folks stooges? Probably, but I honestly think that most of the audience is authentic. A more "traditional" illusion caps each show and is usually performed in front of large crowds or even on stage. In this season these include a building-to-building levitation (rigged on a helicopter I'm thinking), a mid-air motorcycle jump vanish (digital post-production tomfoolery?), a summoned-out-of-thin-air Army Humvee (a neat-o camera trick?), walking on water (um, a transparent balance beam?), a disappearing elephant (I have no idea), a disappearing girl in the middle of the street (I have no idea), a laser-quick metamorphosis (I have no idea), sawing himself in half in plain view (I have no idea), predicting the exact results of a car race (I have no idea) and many other stunts and illusions that will end with my saying "I have no idea." So while it's fun and irritating to try and figure out how he does a certain illusion, I submit that the best way to enjoy these performances is to, well, just sit back and enjoy them. Anyway, aren't all trick reveals hugely anti-climactic anyway, like the magician isn't levitating, just reeling himself up a large fishing pole? My advice is to embrace the bewilderment, because trying to figure out how this guy accomplishes his feats would just lead to brain hemorrhaging.
Will all the aforementioned fawning over the magic in consideration, I'm not quite ready to crown Mindfreak the greatest reality show on the planet. The tricks are great, but the buffer material between them is pretty lame. The interviews feel more contrived and promotional than anything (Criss's manager sells it so hard I half-expect him to start weeping and confess his man-love for his client) and nearly all of the humor falls flat. Much of the levity is supposed to be on-the-fly, but is obviously scripted and poorly scripted at that. Likewise for most of the "random" encounters Criss has, especially with the litany of C-list celebrities (Carrot Top, Mark McGrath, Vince Neil). The effect: the show is often bewitched with an overwhelming sense of fakeness, which may seem like an obvious criticism considering it's about a magician that performs illusions, but because those illusions are so high-quality, the blasé hokum that buttresses them are that much more noticeable -- and disappointing. The good news? Shows run only about 20 minutes, the vast majority of which are dedicated to the magic.
In the end, I still vigorously recommend the series, especially to fans of magic. Criss Angel's skills are so impressive it should have even the most jaded of you flummoxed. Kids will no doubt enjoy it as well, though there are a few bleeped out bad words for you attentive parents out there. And some dabbling in the occult in the "Celebrity Séance" episode -- but that ends very cryptically, begging the question of its voracity.
Full frame and 2.0 stereo all the way, with neither no-frills tech spec lacking; the video quality is at the level of most reality show DVD releases. A handful of short featurettes make up the extras, including a collection of the "learn-a-trick" segments Criss did during the season, magician interviews, practical jokes, "Criss uncensored" and "Criss Angel Special Gifts." In addition, Criss gives two episode commentaries, which, unfortunately, are lean on the revelations. He vigorously maintains that "what you see is what you get" and...well, I want to believe! I do!
The magic is a lot of fun. The other stuff, not so much. Overall, though, a very entertaining show that earns a solid recommendation.
The accused is shackled, manacled and sunk to the bottom of the ocean and...disappears!
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Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 440 Minutes
Release Year: 2006
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Criss Angel Commentary on Two Episodes
* "Teach a Trick"
* Practical Jokes
* "Criss Angel Special Gifts"
* "Criss Uncensored"
* Criss Angel's Official Web Site