Rating: 3 stars out of 5
There is not much magical about ‘The Incredible Burt Wonderstone’, even with its A-list headliners, big hair ,fake tans and outrageous costumes. But just as the movie pits magicians with different styles against each other, it also showcases different facets of comedy from its stars.
Steve Carell and Steve Buscemi play Burt Wonderstone and Anton Marvelton, childhood nerds who bonded over magic tricks and decided to make it their career. After years successfully headlining Bally's in Las Vegas, their act is becoming stale and not drawing crowds, particularly in comparison to the street magician Steve Gray (Jim Carrey), a hybrid of David Blaine and Criss Angel whose brand of extreme magic mainly comprises endurance tests, such as holding in urine or sleeping on hot coals.
Pressurised to draw the crowds by their boss (James Gandolfini, who is making a career playing bosses), Wonderstone and Marvelton perform a public gig that becomes a disaster, and predictably, the two have a massive falling out. Their show is canceled and the now-broke Wonderstone finds work at a retirement home. He chances upon his inspiration, retired magician Rance Holloway (Alan Arkin), who along with his former assistant Jane (Olivia Wilde), help him start a slow climb to redemption after he rediscovers the nature of magic.
'The Incredible Burt Wonderstone' trailer
Carrey and Carrell are an interesting match, with their poles-apart brands of humour. Carrell's often underplayed and self-effacing humour is in stark contrast to Carrey's wild, free-wheeling, extreme schtick. Carrell does start out as a bit of a jerk who is jaded and egotistical, but soon lapses back into his character from the television series ‘The Office’; the loser in life who struggles to cope and just wants to make an impression.
Carrey’s tongue-flashing and rubber-faced antics still belongs to the gross-out variety, but he steals the show with unrestrained glee. The 51-year-old did in addition buff up for the role, showing off his toned bod in a topless scene. Buscemi (best known for TV shows such as ‘Boardwalk Empire’ and ‘The Sopranos’) portrays the trampled underdog well, though his character is very much underwritten as compared to Carrell and Carrey.
The lone female with a major role in the film, Olivia Wilde does manage to hold her own, but she comes across as just a love interest for Wonderstone rather than an actual character, which is a real shame for the go-to actress who’s made her mark in TV series ‘House’ and opposite Daniel Craig in ‘Cowboys and Aliens’.
The film's best moments belong to Academy-award winning actor Arkin, even though his role is underwritten. Nonetheless, the bizarreness of a magician in a retirement home for performers might be the comedy's most original idea.
Director Don Scardino is better known for his work on the television series ‘30 Rock’, and seems to have trouble with the big set pieces. The smaller jokes, such as when Wonderstone and Jane visit Holloway at the hospital, are the ones that save the film.
The comedy fizzles out at the end in its sentimental rush to tie down loose threads, as Wonderstone's climb out of his hole just goes by a little too smoothly. Furthermore, the big magical act that revives the career of the duo is quite implausible in real life, and kind of deflates the whole point of the film.
‘Burt Wonderstone’ just manages to pull off being entertaining, helped by great performances by Arkin and Carrell. At the end though, there little that is outwardly incredible about this comedy, and besides a few new tricks, the gags from the performers are pretty much their same old routines, just flashier.