Penn and Teller Get Killed (1989)

Rating: B

Dir: Arthur Penn
Star: Penn Gillette, Teller, Caitlin Clarke, David Patrick Kelly

How much you get out of this depends almost entirely on how close your mindset is to Penn and Teller. If, like us, you share their screwed-up, sarcastic attitude to life, you’ll likely have a ball; otherwise, you’ll be lost, sunk, and buried. The “plot” sees Penn saying on national TV how cool it’d be for someone to try and kill him – of course, somebody takes him up on the offer. However, it has already been established that the duo’s main leisure pursuit is playing cruel practical jokes on each other (particularly post-9/11, the airport sequences are amazingly non-PC), so is this really just another malevolent prank?

Including a very early appearance by Tom Sizemore (as a mugger), this is at its best offering glimpses into the twisted world of P&T. Teller’s secret life as a ninja, for example, or his talent for catching pigeons; these oddities hint at hidden depths. It’s also worth noting that Teller speaks here, something he never does during their shows, though having seen them in Las Vegas, I know he happily talks off-stage.

Less successful are stabs at education – I don’t really need a movie to tell me that psychic surgeons are frauds, even if it’s a subject that still concerns them today (see their Showtime series Bullshit!). Still, the ending deserves much respect for sheer finality, and early events lead to a skeptical mind-set that believes nothing you see, an interesting approach for any movie. While it doesn’t all work, enough does to make for interesting viewing, at least when you’re in a P&T frame of mind.