Early in “The Magic Christian,” one guy shouts, “There’s something very bloody weird going on here!” Brother, you don’t know the half of it.
The movie’s poster tagline reads, “ ‘The Magic Christian’ is: antiestablishmentarian, antebellum, antitrust, antiseptic, antibiotic, antisocial & antipesto,” to which I could easily add anti-funny, anti-audience and anti-recommandable, as well.
The difficult-to-describe “Magic Christian” is a screwball satire/musical/sketch comedy/unwholly mess starring Peter Sellers as a billionaire named Sir Guy Grand who, apropos of nothing, adopts a homeless drifter named Youngman (Ringo Starr) so that the two of them can spend the rest of the movie proving that people will literally do anything for money.
At its core, though, “Christian” is simply a nonlinear succession of random sketches and dopey fantasy sequences featuring an all-star cast (Yul Brynner, John Cleese, Laurence Harvey, Roman Polanski) whose participation flat-out proves that actors will literally do anything for money. (Brynner’s embarrassing drag solo may come closest to proving this hypothesis but, then again, there is a scene in which Sellers smears beluga caviar all over his face, so who’s to say?)
There isn’t a single moment in all of “The Magic Christian” that brought a chuckle, which shocked me given the level of talent involved. The sketches themselves are so divorced from reality that they are more bewildering than bewitching (a simple grouse hunt turns into an all-out artillery battle involving automatic weapons and a tank, Sellers and Starr buy a Rembrandt painting simply so they can destroy it, Christopher Lee shows up in his Dracula duds because why not?).
It’s all so unabashedly chaotic and unapologetically British that I could hardly wait for it to end. Having said that, any flick that features Raquel Welch donning a leather bikini and a whip can’t be all terrible. Right?
“THE MAGIC CHRISTIAN”
Rated: PG, but there are flashes of nudity and several gross-out scenes
Director: Joseph McGrath
Starring: Peter Sellers, Ringo Starr
★ (out of ★★★★)