‘Houdini’ shackled to a leaden script

September 1, 2014 12:06 PM

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‘Houdini’ shackled to a leaden script

‘Biopic” is not a particularly inviting portmanteau. And the biopic isn’t a particularly inviting genre. Most biographical movies and miniseries wind up as waxen re-creations of the best-known moments from a famous person’s life. They’re like those old TV ads for greatest-hits albums. The scripts tend to be impersonal and clogged with fact-laden dialogue, and the supporting actors are usually generic and dressed up in unlived-in period costumes.

Only the exceptions — “Behind the Candelabra,” “Lincoln” — manage to bring you closer to the subject, transforming him or her from a textbook figure into a living, breathing person. And those exceptions are often thanks to a giant, dazzling lead performance, and not necessarily the script. Capturing...

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