This Israeli-financed film was a biopic of Uri Gellers life. Ken Russell was brought in to direct. Russell is a British director who courted outrage with films such as Women in Love (1970), The Devils (1971), Lisztomania (1974) and Tommy (1975) and was once one of the celebrated arthouse directors. (See below for Ken Russells other genre entries). In the 1980s and 90s, Ken Russells star has fallen considerably and he has struggled for the recognition he once held and was eventually forced to take on low-budget hackwork like this.
Mindbender appears to be taking itself deadly serious. As the credits tell us: Uri is not a magician. He is using capabilities we all have and can develop. You will get a chance to practice with Uri at the end of the film. On the other hand, the serious intent of the endeavour seems to be fighting with Ken Russells characteristic proclivities towards turning the film into a lunatically over-the-top madhouse. As the credits also ominously note The following events are interpreted through the eyes of Ken Russell. [my emphasis]. The nuttiness of Ken Russells interpretation starts in from the moment the credits play one is not sure what the biopic of a supposedly real psychic has to do with images of the Moon Landing and footage of Earth and the galaxy, all while Elton Johns Rocket Man (1972) plays on the soundtrack. It is clearly Ken Russell in a full flight of lunacy a la Tommy the early scenes at an open-air school take place against a building, the different faces of which have been painted with a Dali melting clock; Uris father takes his belt off to give Uri a beating but contrarily rock music starts playing on the soundtrack; and there are randomly intercut images of crabs on a beach and toy UFOs.
Ken Russells films of the late 1980s became increasingly tongue-in-cheek. Here when it comes to the scenes at Terence Stamps house with Geller teleporting dogs and moving tennis balls and windup toys, you are not sure whether you are meant to be taking any of it seriously at all. There is an hysterically awful scene outside a casino (which looks suspiciously like a pool beside a mansion) where the door is blown off Gellers limousine by a psychic storm, money he has just won at a gambling table blows everywhere and Geller starts twirling around in mid-air, all supposedly because he used his powers for personal gain. Even funnier is the scene where Geller breaks out from military custody, which looks more like it belongs in a Scanners sequel rather than something that is attempting to be a serious biopic. Here Geller escapes the lab, using his powers to knock out soldiers and scientists, bending the guns aimed at him and the gates in his way, while at the same time as driving a car while wearing a sensory deprivation helmet that covers his eyes and navigating psychically, before finally teleporting into Terence Stamps living room, landing on the couch and nonchalantly asking Am I late for lunch? It is a scene that can be guaranteed prize status in any future collection of laughably bad screen moments. The actor cast as Uri Geller, Ishai Golan, plays with an annoyingly arrogant manner. Moreover, he improbably looks about the age of fifteen throughout. The entire film, even the parts of the Americans, has been cast with Israelis who speak English through often thick accents.
Mindbender sinks down to a level of true ineptitude. It is an entirely laughable film on almost every single count. In a few years, it is probably going to be revived and deemed worthy of Golden Turkey status. It is hard to believe that this laughable rubbish can come from the same director who made fine works such as The Devils and the underrated likes of Altered States (1980) and Crimes of Passion (1984).
What is also particularly noticeable is the films overwhelming endorsement of the actuality of Uri Gellers powers. The film depicts a number of occasions when considerable doubt might have been placed on whether Geller was making it all up or not and then blithely ignores or dismisses any sceptical enquiry like the time Geller is exposed for the fact that his volunteer chose his own wife as accomplice during the stage act. (Who is to say that this may not have been a genuine occasion when Uri Geller was exposed, when we have only his on-screen characters claim that he did not know). Or when Gellers photos of supposedly a UFO are revealed as identical to the lampshade in his house. Or where, after Gellers famous tv performance during which he brought the microphone towards the clocks on the stage and revealed them all to be ticking, people later reported finding a tape recorder in his pocket. Or the very fact that the scientist (Terence Stamp) who supposedly brought Geller to America and measured his powers had all records of his experiments mysteriously erased and has himself gone off exploring in South America and cannot be traced ie. have Gellers claims independently corroborated. All of these, which would normally be strong reasons to doubt the authenticity of Gellers claims, are raised by the film but dismissed without the blink of an eyelid. Mostly though, there is the plain lack of conviction to Uri Gellers claims if there was someone who had such frighteningly powerful superhuman abilities, including being able to teleport, kill people, levitate objects and bend metal, does it seem credible that he would waste his time putting them at the service of mere showmanship?
There is a funny ending that flashes forward into the future and supposedly gives us a telecast from the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games, which we are told now hosts spoon-bending events, while Ishai Golan, still looking fifteen (the real Geller was 55 at the time), turns up and asks everybody to touch their hands to the screen and concentrate on disarming nuclear weapons. Finally, the credits roll and then stop in mid-flow, whereupon the real Uri Geller appears. As the opening credits promise, he does show people how to harness their psychic powers he demonstrates how to make a watch work by holding it in his hands and then asks viewers to touch their hands to the screen and concentrate on uniting the whole world in positivity. The cod showmanship of it all is hysterical. At least the real Uri Geller has a polished showmans charm that Ishai Golan in playing him on-screen utterly fails to project.
Ken Russells other films of genre interest are: the spy film Billion Dollar Brain (1967); the historical witch persecution film The Devils (1971); the quite deranged surrealist adaptation of The Whos rock opera Tommy (1975); the sf film Altered States (1980); the psycho-sexual thriller Crimes of Passion (1984); Gothic (1987), centred around the events leading up to the inspiration for Mary Shelleys writing Frankenstein (1818); the spoofily over the top adaptation of Bram Stokers The Lair of the White Worm (1988); The Fall of the Louse of Usher (2002), Russells demented home movie take on Edgar Allan Poe; and an episode of the horror anthology Trapped Ashes (2006).
(Winner for Worst Film in this sites Top 10 Films of 1996 list).
No trailer but a clip here:-