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Film / Penn & Teller Get Killed

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Penn & Teller Get Killed (retitled Dead Serious in some regions) is a 1989 Black Comedy directed by Arthur Penn, featuring double act Penn & Teller (who also wrote the movie) playing themselves as their stage personas offstage. Confused yet?

At the beginning, they perform on a talk show where, as part of the act, Penn claims he wishes someone were trying to kill him, to make life more exciting. This is intended as setup for Teller pretending to slit his throat, but it turns out all sorts of people saw the talk show and now recognize him as the idiot who asked people to kill him on national TV. This leads to several attempts being made on their life until, well, Penn and Teller get killed. But not in the way you think.

Meanwhile, the two magicians do some magic tricks, demonstrate that psychic surgeons are bullshit, and play increasingly mean tricks on one another.

The movie features examples of:

  • All Just a Dream: Inverted and Invoked by Penn during his closing monologue.
  • Author Appeal: Penn drinks cola even when aping a hard-boiled private eye. The pair also drinks Yoohoo. Penn is a teetotaler in real life.
  • Author Tract: The duo really do love to expose fakery like psychic surgery. Which makes sense considering their television series Penn & Teller: Bullshit!.
  • Be Careful What You Wish For: Everything starts with Penn wishing someone were trying to kill him. It turns out no real attempt was made on their lives, however, as they were all part of either Penn or Teller's trick.
  • Black Comedy: Oh yes.
  • Bloodless Carnage: At the end, surprisingly given it's rated R and does feature plenty of fake blood during Penn and Teller's magic routines. Especially noticeable when Teller has shot himself in the chest and we go on to see many clear shots of the body with no blood on his shirt whatsoever.
  • The Cast Show Off: Several scenes feature Penn and Teller just performing magic tricks. A couple don't seem to serve any other purpose than just showing off their magic, such as the one where some reporters ask Teller what he hates about magic and he silently does a bunch of standard magic tricks with a flourish before simply leaving.
  • Celebrity Casualty: The film ends with Teller accidentally shooting Penn dead and then turning the gun on himself.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The gun that Teller buys for self-defense is thrown away when it seems things have been cleared up, but returns spectacularly to significance by the end.
  • Deadly Prank: Both Penn and Teller end up dead as a result of Penn's prank. So do at least ten other people, in fact. And possibly the entire rest of the world's population.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Most of Penn's lines, which creates a hilarious contrast when things get deadly serious.
    Juan: You the big one with the hair? ...and he's the little one who doesn't talk? ...Who's she?
    Penn: Yes, I am the big one with the hair, my partner doesn't talk right now because he's got a mouth full of drain cleaner. This is our manager, Carlotta, she's pretending to be David Letterman. Okay, my turn. You're the one with the scorpion on his neck, he's the big, fat one. Who, may I ask, is this gentleman?
  • Deliberately Monochrome: The parodic sequence near the middle where Penn is narrating and writing the "memoirs of the hunted" is black-and-white. When the policewoman comes in and ends their noir fantasy, the color abruptly returns to the picture.
  • Despair Event Horizon: At the end when Teller realizes he just killed Penn.
  • Downer Ending: It ends with everyone dying. And then Penn's voiceover at the end takes care to assure the viewer that the pull-out shot of the city is not an implication that they went to heaven; they're just dead. Every major Western religion disapproves of suicide, after all. Of course, Penn & Teller are ardent atheists.
  • Driven to Suicide: More than you can count, though most of them are very much Played for Laughs. Penn, Teller, Carlotta and the phony killer fan all kill themselves for their part in the deadly prank, then people who simply stumble on the scene are suddenly driven to suicide upon seeing the carnage.
  • Escalating War: A lot of the movie revolves around Penn and Teller playing increasingly mean and elaborate tricks on one another. In fact, it turns out the whole movie revolves around that.
  • The End of the World as We Know It: One of the most over the top cases. Everyone who discovers the carnage that resulted from Teller accidentally killing Penn is so horrified they automatically kill themselves, and the film all but implies that people aren't going to stop discovering the murder site with the continuous gun shots that can be heard during the ending. And since more deaths mean the scene of the murder can only expand, it's only long before everyone discovers the scene of death and commits suicide.
  • "Everybody Dies" Ending: Everyone involved dies at the end. And then a bunch of people who weren't involved at all die too, for good measure.
  • Exactly What It Says on the Tin: ...yeah.
    Penn: Oh yeah. We're dead and there's no way out. I mean it couldn't be a gag, it couldn't be a joke, we're not gonna have one of the characters wake up from a bad dream, you'd hate us for that! I mean, the movie is called ''Penn & Teller Get Killed''. We had to get killed at the end, there's no way out of that. We were married to that ending from the moment we thought of the title, and now we've actually killed off (chuckles) ourselves! And there's no taking that back. And this whole, uh, pullbacknote , this is not us going to heaven. We're just dead. I mean those were suicides, frowned upon by every major Western religion, and Atlantic City is in the Western world, so Penn and Teller are dead. (laughs briefly) That's it. Uh, thanks. Hope you enjoyed it. You can imagine the sequel thing is kind of a bitch.
    Teller: Why didn't we just use different names?
    Penn: Damn.
  • Fake Assassination: Penn hires someone to pretend to try to kill him, just to fuck with Teller.
  • Fanvid: The Fan made a montage video out of Penn and Teller's appearance on the talk show at the beginning, as well as an excerpt from their 1987 video Penn & Teller's Cruel Tricks for Dear Friends.
  • Foregone Conclusion: Yup.
  • Gilligan Cut: Right after Penn says that even "the bad boys of magic" don't reveal how their tricks are done... the scene shows exactly how it's done.
  • Gone Horribly Right: Penn's final prank is about scaring the hell out of Teller. And it really does.
  • Happily Failed Suicide: Set up with the Fan's friend, complete with dramatic slow motion as he pulls the trigger only for the gun to be out of bullets. Then it is thoroughly subverted as his actual reaction is to be annoyed, look around the room for more bullets (which takes a while) and then do it successfully.
  • Heroic BSoD: Teller, after he shoots Penn.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: Penn's final prank goes a wee bit wrong for him.
  • Hypocritical Humor: Plenty. For example, when a reporter asks Penn how the "drills on the table" trick is done, he refuses, claiming that while Penn and Teller are the "bad boys of magic", they never reveal how tricks are done. A second later, the film shows how the trick is done. Teller is actually okay, and mirrors were used.
  • I'm Your Biggest Fan: The Fan, of the Annie Wilkes variety.
  • Ironic Echo:
    • In the opening segment on the talk show, Penn shouts "Are we live?!" regularly and has the audience respond, to assure TV viewers that the performance is in fact happening live and no editing trickery is involved. After capturing Teller, the Fan starts reenacting the segment, and the insane, growling voice in which he says "ARE WE LIVE?!" is possibly the most unsettling part of it.
    • "Are we live?!" is also irony given the title of the film. And the ending.
    • Additionally, after each trick the pair play on one another, the phrase "No hard feelings" is used. The last time it is used is a bit more serious.
  • Laughing Mad: Teller, after he's accidentally killed Penn and before he commits suicide
  • Loony Fan: The Fan who is trying to kill them. Except it turns out he was an actor hired by Penn.
  • Metal Detector Checkpoint: The Escalating War starts with Teller ensuring repeatedly that the metal detector gate gets set off every time Penn walks through it.
  • Mood Whiplash: At the end, there is one dead serious scene, in stark contrast with most of the movie. It then evolves into a sequence of increasingly ridiculous suicides, in what may be the funniest part of the entire film.
  • Motor Mouth: Penn as he's trying to distract the psychic surgeon who is trying to kill them.
    Penn: You see? It's not the leby, it was the levy that was dry! The levy was dry!
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Teller and Carlotta both have a Heroic BSoD after Teller shoots Penn and himself.
  • Naked People Are Funny: Teller keeps contriving to make the airport metal detector go off every time Penn walks through it. By the end, a frustrated Penn, now stripped down to his underwear, screams, "I WILL GO TO PHILLIDELPHIA NAKED!!!" offscreen.
  • Noir Episode: The black-and-white sequence, where Penn suddenly smokes and attempts a (hilariously over-the-top) variation of a Private Eye Monologue.
  • Ooh, Me Accent's Slipping: Carlotta adopts a ridiculous Boston accent when disguised as an Irish cop. She drops it during The Reveal.
  • Once Done, Never Forgotten: After their talk show appearance at the beginning, everyone thinks of Penn as the guy who said he wanted people to kill him on national television.
  • Once for Yes, Twice for No: While blindfolded on an operating table, Penn asks Teller to do this to confirm he's there several times, to no avail.
  • O.O.C. Is Serious Business: At the end, Teller actually speaks. First he says "Listen!" when he walks into the Fan's apartment, and the latter lampshades it ("Come on, Teller! The audience knows Teller doesn't speak!"). Then, later, he drops the silent persona completely when he realizes he's just shot Penn and demands some answers. The trope name is very literal here: this is a realistic reaction, completely out of tune with the logic the rest of the movie runs on, that establishes this as the one dead serious scene in it.
  • Out-of-Genre Experience: Most of the movie is very silly, despite its dark subject matter - but then the climatic scene takes itself completely seriously, with not a shred of comedy to it, black or otherwise. After Teller shoots Penn, he stares for a moment and then speaks, demanding to know what's going on, finally realizes that he's actually killed, his friend, and kills himself. Carlotta begins sobbing in shock and desperation, then jumps out the window. It's a harsh, raw, painful scene. And then it's followed up with a series of increasingly ridiculous and over-the-top suicides that becomes one of the funniest scenes in the movie.
  • Phony Psychic: Psychic surgeons. Except it turns out there weren't any psychic surgeons - well, there probably are, but none of them actually appeared and the guy we thought was going to see a psychic surgeon actually wasn't sick.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: The policewoman delivers one against Teller at the end, ranting about how he's always there making funny faces in the background while Penn talks but really he thinks the morbid routines up with him and is "too sick to even express [himself] in words".
  • Retirony: The older police officer who comes in at the end mentions being about to retire, minutes before committing suicide.
  • The Reveal: Several times. First, near the middle, we find out the whole thing with the psychic surgeons was a trick Teller was playing on Penn. Then the policewoman reveals that she was actually working with the Fan and behind everything. And then we discover actually the policewoman was Carlotta all along, working with Penn and the Fan to trick Teller as a means of getting back at him for the kidnapping thing.
  • The Silent Bob: Teller for most of the movie, true to his normal stage persona. It seems to be implied that speech is actually unpleasant or difficult for this version of Teller. He doesn't even speak up for himself when trying to get across to Penn and Carlotta that Penn getting shot was not park of his prank, and there's a real gunman after them (he thinks). This makes the O.O.C. Is Serious Business moment stand out even more.
  • Smoking Is Cool: Penn smokes in the Film Noir-parody Deliberately Monochrome sequence.
  • Suicide as Comedy: The end has this, to extreme levels: it is implied that it sets off a wave of increasingly ridiculous suicides around the entire world.
  • Take Me Instead: Parodied; when they're being kidnapped, Penn shouts "Do what you want to the girl, but leave me alone!" Penn also gets the psychic surgeon to go for him rather than Teller while they're strapped down on medical trolleys, since Teller is well on his way towards sawing through his restraints with a pocket knife, but that's just because at that point Penn's only hope is for Teller to break free and fight back against their captors; he isn't trying to be self-sacrificing.
  • Twist Ending: The entire film has just been Penn and Teller playing tricks on one another; there never was a real assassin after them at all. Which doesn't stop them from getting killed anyway, of course.
  • Walking Disaster Area: Penn & Teller, Lampshaded by The Fan's friend.
    Fan's Friend: I hate Penn & Teller! Not content just to destroy themselves...!