Deceptive Practice: The Mysteries and Mentors of Ricky Jay
⋆⋆ out of four stars
Unrated: suitable for all audiences.
Theater: Lagoon.


Theatrical magician Ricky Jay knows how to keep his secrets. In the documentary "Deceptive Practice," Jay allows directors Molly Bernstein and Alan Edelstein interviews, backstage access to his shows, and the use of clips from his many TV appearances and movie performances (he is something of a regular in the films of David Mamet). A master of telling much and revealing little, he never parts the curtain of his privacy. The film is a chronicle of his career progression from child illusionist to long-haired opening act for ’70s rock performers to author, historian of magic and star of one-man off-Broadway shows. He pays tribute to several of his teachers, Slydini, Cardini, Al Flosso and other heirs to Houdini who helped Jay hone his amazing skills.

We see close-up sleight-of-hand that boggles the mind, and hear of stunning illusions that years later have their witnesses gaping in awe. British journalist Suzie Mackenzie recalls having lunch with Jay in a crowded restaurant. Jay lifted his menu to reveal a block of ice the size of a car battery. Jay’s martial-arts instructor, Fred Neumann, challenged him to repeat a stage trick in which he materializes two $1 bills and conjures them into a single $2 bill. Neumann demanded the trick while he and Jay were side by side, naked, in the gym shower. Jay protested that he was unprepared. Then, soaked and naked, he made two greenbacks appear, and merged them into a single $2 note.

The stories are amusing, but the film tells us hardly anything about who Jay is offstage. We get a guided tour of his passion, but never encounter the man himself. He doesn't divulge where he lives, we don't meet his wife, we learn nothing about his parents, with whom he had a contentious relationship. Even under the spotlight, Ricky Jay knows how to disappear.