The Incredible Burt Wonderstone

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Release: Friday, March 15, 2013

[Theater]

It’s a little bit of a wonder and a magic trick in itself that this one didn’t turn out to be better. And I’m not going to write it off as a disaster, either, but this will become in a few weeks a very forgettable installment in Carell’s (and Carrey’s) comedic career(s).

Burt Wonderstone (Carell) is a jackass. That much is clear.

I guess, like many absurdly rich, famous people, the size of the ego can grow to equally absurd proportions, and this is the approach Michael Scott…..er, Steve Carell takes in creating a lead role who’s ultimately doomed for failure once a new, and more captivating performer (Jim Carrey) comes onto the Las Vegas scene. Wonderstone has lived quite a lavish lifestyle up to this point, performed the exact same magic acts for the past decade or so, and has never left the side of his childhood friend, Anton Marvelton (Steve Buscemi). The two have built their careers on the concept of a “magical friendship” on stage and they perform all their stunts together, sometimes requesting the help of a female audience member (ultimately, this becomes a whole other trick…and not really the magical kind). Regardless, at the end of the night when the two are done with their set, we can tell that 10 years of going through the motions has worn on the friendship of the two magicians.

Where our uneven tandem finally gets challenged — I say ‘uneven’ since Burt Wonderstone insists on believing this act is more about him than his partner Anton — is when they learn of a new kind of magician, a man by the name of Steve Gray, who does what is known as ‘street magic.’ Self-mutilation apparently now comes packaged under a new name; how lovely.

Also an egomaniacal twit, Carrey’s Steve Gray represents the new era of magic…. he’s the hotness. With long flowing hair (which looks great on Jim Carrey, by the way…I haven’t seen the man with hair this crazy since his days as Ace!!) The two old dogs must learn new tricks, and fast. That is, if they want to remain relevant and compete with tricks like…well, I won’t go into detail there because some things Steve Gray does is a little icky. But here’s the grand sum of the plot: they do try to compete.

Yes, the magical friendship pair try a ‘street art trick’ of their own by attempting to spend an entire week trapped in a suspended plastic box with holes punched in it, all while being dangled over the Las Vegas strip. Quite a sight to behold. Too bad it doesn’t go well….(not a spoiler, don’t worry. You’ll see this coming a mile away). When this all goes awry, it results in the two friends parting ways and Burt is left scrounging for new places to perform since his act can no longer be sustained without Anton. But even this highly expected and well-worn path being walked on here as Burt finds himself going back to his roots to realize why he went into magic at all, is not what kills Burt Wonderstone. Not for me. I might have a higher tolerance for stupid films, anyway, I might have to grant you that, but still.

What is bad with this film is the good stuff; meaning, the attempts at being a laugh-per-minute comedy fail time and time again throughout the film, with some jokes simply smacking the floor with a heavy thud. They just don’t land gracefully, or at all. There’s this one moment where Burt’s assistant, Jane (Olivia Wilde) has come over to Burt’s shanty little hotel room just to check on him and make sure he’s alright, and the only thing Burt can do is try to turn it into a make out session. This, I presume, was intended for comedy, but what it came off as was plain awkward, pointless and dumb. Pointless in the sense that we already know how much of a stubborn jerk Burt is, we didn’t need more of it.

Deleted scenes, anyone?

Where I found comedy was partly in Carrey’s role as Steve Gray who does some absolutely ridiculous stunts, and partly in James Gandolfini being in the movie. Period. That was funny on its own since he stuck out like a sore thumb. Gandolfini, as Burt and Anton’s former boss at his grand casino/resort hotel, perpetually threw off the vibe that Carell and Carrey were creating because all I can see that guy do is intimidate people, and on occasion, shoot them. That’s an oversimplification of Gandolfini’s career, of course, but I couldn’t look past these facts. But he wasn’t terrible in the film. Miscast, perhaps.

Alan Arkin lights up the screen a little later on, playing the one-and-only Rance Holloway — the famous magician who inspired Burt and Anton to become magicians themselves. He becomes involved in one of the lazier plot fillers in this film by residing in the very retirement home Burt has washed up on performing low-key magic acts for the elderly there. Burt catches the guy’s attention (not a good thing, in this case…) and yadda-yadda-yadda, we get the typical big-picture perspective stuff, about how the glory days are so long gone and “why would anyone else ever try to copy me”…that kind of rigamarole. He’s a funny dude, no lie; but we’ve heard these exact words uttered by thousands, probably literally thousands of other actors in films similar to this beforehand.

And even more unfortunately for a man of his talents, Arkin is at the mercy of an audience which is pretty close to yawning having just sat through a dry spell of joke-free scenes or even unintentionally funny moments. He comes in to help Burt find his mojo again. Cool…yawn

The remainder of the film simply falls apart as well, a dilapidated Pinto with all four wheels blowing out in the final 30 or so minutes. The final act and trick of the film, following a rather uninspiring reuniting between Burt and Anton, and the inclusion of Jane as part of the Incredible Burt and Anton act, is so preposterous it became funny in its own way. Perhaps this was the intention. Perhaps this was the intention all along — does this film at any point give itself room to be serious?

Though that was actually a rhetorical question, the answer is simply ‘No.’ The Incredible Burt Wonderstone does make some good use out of Jim Carrey as the outrageous street performer (he claims in an interview that he never intended to be making fun of any particular street performer, say, Criss Angel).

My final conclusion about this film? Well it’s not an overly positive one, but I did not hate it. I may have set myself up for failure by going in wanting a level of comedy something LIKE Anchorman, The Office, or heck….Crazy, Stupid, Love, or even Dan In Real Life. That’s a pretty diverse list of Carell’s achievements right there. So where on the list does Burt Wonderstone get placed? Not the bottom, definitely not the top, but in meager middle territory.

The stars in this film will likely do many more films similar to this, and that’s alright. But with them playing magicians, I was hoping they might create a grander illusion.

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2-5Recommendation: I would go if you really are in love with Steve Carell and/or Jim Carrey. I mean, I did. That was probably the greatest trick of them all. There’s not much else to behold in this film beyond Carell and Carrey acting crazy goofy around one another…more so Carrey.

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 100 mins.

Quoted: “It’s natural for a dying leaf to be frightened of the autumn wind.”

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Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

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6 thoughts on “The Incredible Burt Wonderstone

    • Thanks man. I can’t argue with ya there, there were some really really funny parts throughout. Just felt like another tread-water film for Carrell.

  1. Jim Carrey was hilarious. The beginning when they were kids was great and that ending trick and how they accomplished it was hysterical. The middle part with Steve Carrell dragged a bit, but overall I laughed quite a bit.

    • Carrey really was damn funny, you’re right. As I said in the post i think I came in with too high expectations and it didn’t quite live up to them, which isn’t fair for the film. I think that was a condition a good many people might ahve been in who are also not 100% in support of this film.

      Carell was good in places, although his entire routine here felt like Michael Scott all over again and it really became repetitive in places. Still, an enjoyable picture. I’d probably see it again in theaters.

  2. Good review. Not very funny, with the exception of a couple of times from Carrey and the rest of the cast. That’s just about it though.

    • Yeah for what you’re getting in the cast, the end result is surprisingly low on laughs. When I first went in to see it they started playing The Hobbit. So we all got to watch a free 15 mins of that gigantic movie…which was nice. Might have made my experience a little better than most haha

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