"It's okay to fool people as long as you're doing it to teach them a lesson which will better their knowledge of how the world works," James Randi tells us at the outset of "An Honest Liar," an unexpectedly revealing documentary portrait of Randi the man as well as his alter ego, an illusionist known as The Amazing Randi. Directors Tyler Measom and Justin Weinstein thumbnail the now-octogenarian Randi's early life for us -- born in Toronto and inspired by Houdini, Randi carved out a nice little career for himself as a magician, with touring and TV appearances on shows like "Happy Days" -- before narrowing the focus to his post-magic calling as an investigator of those who claim psychic powers.
Most famously, in the early 1970's Randi set out to expose as frauds mentalist Uri Geller ("Do you know how many times Randi tried to ruin my career?" he marvels in his on-camera interview) and faith-healer Peter Popoff, who made a fortune preying on the gullible. Measom and Weinsten provide us satisfying footage of people getting their just desserts (including the otherwise innocent Alice Cooper, whom Randi guillotined on stage during the 1973-74 "Billion Dollar Babies" tour), and we also hear from admiring colleagues like Penn Jillette, and Adam Savage from "Mythbusters."
The film's obvious pro-Randi agenda leaves no doubt about the man's noble intentions, but some of Randi's quests do smack a little of ego rather than a desire to protect people. We also meet José Alvarez, Randi's partner since 1986 in both work and life, though Randi has only been publicly out since 2010. Turns out Alvarez had a thing or two up his own sleeve, and in the film's third act we learn that even the most vigilant can be fooled. But you can ask him about it yourself: The Amazing Randi will be on hand for a Skype discussion following the screening.