The film is about two magician's out-of-control rivalry.
By DAVID GERMAIN
AP MOVIE WRITER
At the outset of Christopher Nolan's "The Prestige," we're told the title refers to a magic trick's big climax, the performer bringing back the thing he just made disappear.
By film's end, the notion of a rational and satisfying climax has hopelessly disappeared in a silly spiral of one-upmanship and a barrage of half-baked revelations that won't make you marvel so much as shrug and forget about them.
Nolan applies a sturdy, period-drama variation of the dark broodiness that underscores his previous films, "Batman Begins," "Insomnia" and "Memento." Yet this tale of a blood feud between rival magicians (Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale) is cold and distant emotionally, with extreme, single-minded obsession the only palpable sentiment.
In that regard, "The Prestige" resembles this year's predecessor, "The Illusionist," another sumptuous but chilly yarn of a century ago about a magician dueling a relentless opponent.
Though both center on the early 1900s and the clash of sorcery and superstition with science and progress, the two movies are quite different. "The Illusionist" was your basic love triangle filtered through hocus-pocus trickery, while "The Prestige" aims for an epic mix of personal warfare and jealousy carried to savage lengths.
With a screenplay adapted by Nolan and brother Jonathan from Christopher Priest's novel, "The Prestige" is a schoolboy rivalry gone overboard, following ruthless attempts by former comrades Robert Angier (Jackman) and Alfred Borden (Bale) to upstage, discredit and even maim each other.
The two men once were up-and-comers together in an act overseen by their mentor, Cutter (Michael Caine), who also provides narration whose meaning is dense enough even without having to decipher the thick accent the actor cops for the role.
Tragedy involving Angier's wife (Piper Perabo) sets the two magicians on a fury of escalating vengeance. Their conflict eventually engulfs Angier's stage assistant (Scarlett Johansson) and Borden's wife (Rebecca Hall).
The two magicians tussle over a trick called "The Transported Man," in which the performer vanishes and instantly reappears elsewhere. Pulled into the fray is real-life engineering genius Nikola Tesla (David Bowie), whose latest invention elevates "The Transported Man" seemingly to paranormal realms.
After the rivalry is set up, "The Prestige" slowly veers downward as first Borden gets the upper hand, then Angier, the two men flailing at each other like the unyielding antagonists of Mad magazine's "Spy vs. Spy" cartoons.
It grows exhausting and repetitive, the little baubles of romance and intrigue involving the supporting cast unable to break the monotony. After some rather clumsy and obvious foreshadowing, notions of duality and doppelg & auml;ngers abruptly break into the open as the movie tumbles through a convoluted sequence of twists and disclosures.
Given the elaborate setup and the lovely costume-drama gloss Nolan achieves, you want an ending that wows, not one that leaves viewers going, "Huh?" Bale, the star of Nolan's "Batman Begins," and Jackman, best known as Wolverine in the "X-Men" movies, are earnest and credible in their compulsions, though both characters are so odious, it's hard to relate to them.
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