Fantasia 2019: Black Magic for White Boys is Woody Allen-lite in Good and Awful Ways


By Kenny Hedges

Woody Allen has a lot to answer for.

There are countless imitations of the famed/infamous, smug intellectual New Yorker. Onar Turkel’s Black Magic for White Boys takes place in the neurotic, fast-paced NYC universe that only lives in the mind of lonely, frustrated writers who believe their every thought is precious. They write in coffee shops and eagerly await the barista to ask about their project. They incorporate snippets of conversations on the street as non-sequitirs in their scripts for “authenticity”.

That aside, I didn’t entirely hate it.

Larry (Ronald Guttman) is a failing magician who owns a ruined theatre in the city, performing cheap tricks for meager income. About to go under, he decides to incorporate actual black magic that makes people vanish and reappear at his will. Oscar (Turkel) meets his soon-to-be girlfriend Chase (Charlie LaRose) on a blind date set up by his slumlord friend. As Larry continues to use black magic, he comes to believe he’s a God, and the slumlord begins using him to “disappear” problem tenants – typically African American. When Chase becomes pregnant and refuses to get rid of it, Oscar tries to engineer a trick to remove the fetus magically.

Oscar is every bit the Woody Allen-lite you’d expect. Neurotic, medicated, irresponsible and unkempt. There’s literally nothing appealing about the man, and Turkel plays it well, but he also makes the mistake of writing him sympathetically. At least Allen had the courage to make his schleps get their comeuppance. Here, Oscar is content to mock the rest of society, even when going broke.

There are some nice bits peppered throughout and some genuinely funny lines. Character actor Kevin Corrigan makes the most out of a one-scene role as a severely irresponsible accountant. But it gets maudlin whenever Turkel attempts to write in some sort of social statement.

And here’s where the film runs into serious problems.

Turkel most assuredly does not have a racist bone in his body, and he truly makes an effort to portray minorities as the oppressed. To an extent, he succeeds, but all the well-meaning in the world couldn’t change the fact that his African American characters are uncomfortably remniscent of the multiple roles Eddie Murphy would play in one film. By throwing up every stereotype at the wall and seeing what sticks, it’s ultimately a misfire.

But even at his lowest points, Woody Allen knew when to end a film. Magic was reportedly made over the course of three years, and it drags on interminably – a film desperately in search of an end. And the laughs stretch thinner and thinner as the runtime just keeps on ticking. In a late scene, the magician watches as his theatre succumbs to the embarassment of an open mic night, featuring some awful slam poetry and stand up. The magician watches, face sunken. He has pulled his last trick; he is now an audience surrogate. Ta-dah.

2/4 (very generous)

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