The Incredible Burt Wonderstone conjures big laughs but little magic
At one point or another in most children’s lives, the concept of magic has been the source of endless wonderment. Whether it’s something as simple as pulling a rabbit out of a hat or complex as David Copperfield making the Statue of Liberty disappear, purveyors of prestidigitation can be utterly compelling.
If you expect to be awed by illusions in The Incredible Burt Wonderstone, however, prepare to be disabused of that notion. Oh, there are plenty of displays of magic, but the film is more interested in the foibles of the magicians themselves than wowing you with their tricks.
Although there is a general story to the film, in reality the framework is just there to set up the next gag.
Steve Carell plays the titular Burt Wonderstone, whose childhood fascination with magic led him to become one of Las Vegas’ premier acts, alongside longtime friend Anton Marvelton (Steve Buscemi).
Although we get brief glimpses of their rise, most of the film details their fall. The pair is challenged by both Burt’s egotism and a street magician named Steve Gray (Jim Carrey) who performs tricks that tend to disgust more than amaze.
Three other people are the source of either help or hindrance along the way, including Rance Holloway (Alan Arkin), an old-timer who gave Burt his initial inspiration; Jane (Olivia Wilde), an assistant who longs to be a magician herself; and Doug Munny (James Gandolfini), the owner of the casino where Burt and Anton put on their show.
Although there is a general story to the film, in reality the framework is just there to set up the next gag. Thankfully, there are some genuinely laugh-out-loud moments throughout the film. As Gray, obviously modeled on Criss Angel, ups the ante more and more with his outrageous stunts, the film gets increasingly over-the-top — and thus funnier and funnier.
But funny sequences can really only carry the film so far. Director Don Scardino is a TV veteran, which may help explain the episodic feel of the film. He often jumps quickly between scenes, getting a laugh and then moving on. But that leaves the movie feeling choppy and, worse, disjointed as several ideas are abandoned shortly after they’re introduced.
Carell, aided by some top-notch makeup, costumes and eyebrow shaping, carries the film from beginning to end. His Burt is a mixture of the cluelessness of Michael Scott on The Office and narcissistic tendencies evident in many a celebrity.
Carrey, for once, is the second banana, and his role is mostly geared toward showing off his talent for physical comedy. Buscemi and Wilde are fine in their roles, but it’s Arkin who steals the show in his limited scenes, delivering deadpan responses that never fail to elicit a laugh.
The Incredible Burt Wonderstone is a collection of hilarious scenes with very little filler to hold them all together. That doesn’t mean it’s not enjoyable for what it is, but it’ll likely leave you with one final trick. Once you leave the theater — poof! — it’s gone from your memory.