by Anthony King
To this day, my favorite part of Pee-Wee's Big Adventure is when he goes into Mario's Magic Shop. The silly little tricks, gags, and props that fill every inch of that little boutique has fascinated me ever since I saw it at the age of four. There's a store we used to go to every Halloween to look at the costumes and masks and props and gags and it's the exact same feeling I got standing in that store as when I watched PWBA for the first time. (Side note: I now live in the same neighborhood as that store and still go and visit to feel that rush.) I will never ever tire of watching magicians perform. From pulling a coin out of my ear to making the Statue of Liberty disappear, I will forever be enthralled by and buy into what these performers are selling me. As a matter of fact, our last big outing before you-know-what was to see The Illusionists, and just like Eben who was seven at the time, I was on the edge of my seat the whole time watching The Mentalist, The Daredevil, The Manipulator, and the rest of the cast entertain the audience. So when I hear about movies dealing with magicians, I'm usually the first in line. Then, more often than not, I'm promptly disappointed. But every so often there comes a movie about magicians that brings out my inner four-year-old and excites me just like the first time we see Pee-Wee walk into Mario's Magic Shop.
That's the basic gist of the story, but I have seldom (if ever) seen a movie billed as a comedic crime caper that carries the weight The Escape Artist does. There are movies like The Hot Rock that lean into the thriller side of the caper, but overall spend most of its time in comedic waters. There's The Great Muppet Caper that leans fully into the silly childishness of how a caper could play out. Rarely, though, does a movie combine the classic caper, Marx Brothers vaudevillian comedy, and the melancholy of coming of age stories into one film. Focusing on the comedic aspect first, we have Raul Julia combining Tony Montana and Rufus T. Firefly. Around Danny, Stu is an unhinged psychopath. Around his father, though, Stu is reduced to a silly, nervous child, who at one point sits on his father's lap unexpectedly which forced a full-out cackle from me. Along with his henchman, played here by John P. Ryan in another goofy-tough guy role where he's dressed in flashy suits topped with a fisherman’s bucket hat, Stu spends most of the movie chasing Danny around, ultimately ending with him running around with a knife, threatening the life of this teenager.