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The Incredible Burt Wonderstone

2013 | 100 min | PG-13 | 2.39:1

The Incredible Burt Wonderstone


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Theatrical release date

 15 March, 2013
 15 March, 2013

Country of origin

 United States

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Screenshots from The Incredible Burt Wonderstone Blu-ray

The Incredible Burt Wonderstone Preview  

 / 10
Preview by Brian Orndorf, March 14, 2013

“The Incredible Burt Wonderstone” is a great title for a promising premise involving dueling Las Vegas magicians fighting for stage glory. Unfortunately, the feature moves beyond the basics to beef up a sense of character and fuel formulaic story arc ambitions, dropping its sense of cartwheeling absurdity to tend to a tale of spray-tanned rebirth I doubt few will be on the edge of their seats to see played out in full. Thankfully, it’s an entertaining picture when locked on silly business, and hilarious when the gifted cast is permitted to let loose pantsing casino entertainment icons long overdue for such a treatment. It should be funnier and tighter, but there’s amusement to be had for those who can endure a few considerable comedic roadblocks.

Bullied as a child, Burt (Steve Carell) dove into the art of illusions to take him away from the woes of the world, using VHS guidance provided by hero and master magician, Rance Holloway (Alan Arkin). With lifelong pal Anton (Steve Buscemi in goofball mode) by his side, Burt grows into the premiere magic act of Las Vegas, pleasing hotel owner Doug (James Gandolfini) and wowing makeshift assistant Jane (a pleasantly playful Olivia Wilde). After a decade of performing the same act, staleness has set into Burt and Anton’s routine, while Steve (Jim Carrey), a rising magician who traffics in shock value, has come to the strip to dominate, hoping to secure placement at Doug’s new glitzy hotel. Losing his show, his money, Anton, and his life of highly rehearsed magic, Burt is left to wallow in obscurity, forced to take a gig charming seniors at an assisted living center. Meeting Rance at his job, while taking Jane’s ideas for illusions seriously, Burt is suddenly inspired to return to the top, hoping to outwit and outperform Steve for a crucial casino job.

“The Incredible Burt Wonderstone” is scripted by John Francis Daley and Jonathan M. Goldstein, the pair responsible for the 2011 hit, “Horrible Bosses.” It’s a relief to see the duo move beyond the pedestrian jokes that winded their previous effort, attempting to create a razzle-dazzle atmosphere for this Vegas tangle of magicians, goosing the clichés of the shows, embellishing the strength of sleight-of-hand skill, and indulging all the ridiculous costumes, wigs, and bone-white teeth the actors can handle. Studying their share of strip spectaculars, the writers unearth a juicy storyline that pits the old Siegfried and Roy guard with the new school of Criss Angel illusionists, with the casino culture losing a touch of the fantastic and the bejeweled to scare people into a sense of wonder. Especially with Carell and Carrey playing the warring twosome, the picture doesn’t need much more to explore the radical change in magical tastes and the comedic possibilities when it comes to the humiliation of defeat.

While crammed with slapstick, there’s also a story to tell, which often applies the brakes on the viewing experience. The script works overtime to bottom out Burt, finding ways to strip him of his dignity so the battered character can build himself back up to glory in decidedly conventional manner, like a “Rocky” picture, only without a training montage. It’s a shame Daley and Goldstein lose their nerve and play so conventionally with the work, as “The Incredible Burt Wonderstone” has numerous highlights of bizarre magic tricks (Steve cuts open his own cheek to reveal a spectator’s chosen card during a street performance) and arrogant behavior, watching the titular character attempt to keep his dignity while losing everything to a mysterious antagonist who takes a considerably more violent approach to his illusions. There’s also a touch of romantic interplay between Burt and Jane, again reinforcing the rusty screenwriting template employed to ease the movie along.

To watch Carrey step into an impersonation of Angel is a thing of beauty, having a ball in bad hair, tacky tattoos, and an inflated sense of theatricality (Steve’s show is titled “Brain Rapist”). His physical comedy provides the film’s most significant bellylaughs, capturing the madness of the character with his old rubbery self -- a slyly blitzkrieg performance that Carrey tends to shy away from these days. Carell is also amusing with less intensity, nailing Burt’s unappealing personality and his dead-eyed addiction to the limelight. “The Incredible Burt Wonderstone” is most secure focusing on this battle of style and ego, allowing the audience to soak up two wonderful jesters in the mood to be hammy and impetuous. Storytelling only blocks access to the movie’s funny bone, making viewers wait patiently for bursts of activity that reward immensely but are few and far between.

Starring: Steve Carell, Steve Buscemi, Olivia Wilde, Jim Carrey, Alan Arkin, James Gandolfini
Director: Don Scardino

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