Hardly Incredible Burt Wonderstone Still Showcases Plenty of Magic
As children, Burt Wonderstone (Steve Carell) and Anton Marvelton (Steve Buscemi) became best friends due to their combined status as outcasts and their mutual fondness for magic. Through hard work, determination, showmanship and skill, the pair got themselves hired by casino magnate Doug Munny (James Gandolfini) to work in one of the grandest showrooms in one of the most magnificent casinos in all of Las Vegas, the duo playing to enthusiastic houses each and every night of the week.
Ten years later the thrill is gone. Burt has become an egotistical bore, pushing Anton around and devaluing his contributions to the act. More, their show has grown stale, especially in the light of new shock street guerilla magicians like Steve Gray (Jim Carrey), his and his ilk’s popularity skyrocketing thanks to a combination of the internet, savvy marketing and grotesque feats of determination key millennial demographics seem to respond to.
Next thing Burt knows, his friendship with Anton has come to an end and his contract with Doug has been unceremoniously cancelled. Out on the street, left with few options, he takes a job in a Vegas retirement home for former stage performers, coming into contact with his former idol and the man who got him interested in magic in the first place, the legendary Rance Holloway (Alan Arkin). Now, with his fire rekindled and with the urging of his former assistant Jane (Olivia Wilde), Burt is determined to get back to the top of the magician mountain, hoping to reveal Gray for a fraud while also rekindling that unbreakable bond with childhood buddy Anton at the same time.
It isn’t going to come as a too great a shock if I say that The Incredible Burt Wonderstone doesn’t quite live up to the adjective in its title. It’s a too obvious, too quaint and more than a little too by the numbers. Still, while not, well, incredible, this modest little comedy is still a lot of fun. I liked the characters, I responded to what was happening to them and I was amused by how Burt interacted with those he should have been treating with more respect (Anton, Jane and Rance). The movie has an easygoing charm, and while I never broke out into huge chortles of laughter it still kept a smile on my face and chuckle in my heart for the majority of its reasonably well paced 100 minutes.
Not to say I didn’t wish for a few changes. Wilde gets the short end of the stick far too often, her determined Jane supposedly this great up and coming magician but sadly we never get to see her do anything more complex than a few rudimentary parlor tricks. On the directorial side, television veteran Don Scardino (“30 Rock,” “Cosby”) betrays his roots, going for the easy gag instead of trying to dig a little deeper or offer up a sequence that might be more visually eye-catching. It doesn’t help that the script, credited to a bevy of writers, never pushes the envelope or makes any attempts for greater depth, keeping everything fairly basic allowing for events to proceed exactly as expected with precious few exceptions.
Yet, Carell is terrific, and while his transformation from wide-eyed wannabe to tiredly selfish and egotistical faded star happens far too quickly, his opposite journey after his downfall is handled with surprising grace, the actor oozing charm as the shell around him cracks open to reveal the kindhearted man within. Buscemi and Gandolfini steal countless scenes with unhurried flair, while Arkin once again proves he’s one of the more intoxicating comedic chameleons working in Hollywood today. As for Carrey, he’s simply awesome, giving the movie a kick in the pants and a mesmerizing devil-may-care enthusiasm every time he enters the story.
It’s hard for me to say anyone needs to rush out this second and buy a ticket. The movie is a sitcom or a skit elongated out to feature length and, as already stated, the surprises it does contain are extremely few and even further far between. But truth be told I’ve got something of a soft spot in my heart for The Incredible Burt Wonderstone, and while the magic it conjures might be fleeting it’s still there, the smile it left me with as I left the theatre both unanticipated and also one I was in no hurry of seeing mystically disappear anytime soon.
Film Rating: 2½ (out of 4)