Las Vegas illusionists Burt Wonderstone and Anton Marvelton (Steve Carell and Steve Buscemi) have been performing in the main showroom of Bally’s Hotel and Casino for 10 years. While the title of their act is “A Magical Friendship,” the pair argues constantly when backstage. Burt criticizes Anton’s every move within the act. He also bullies their on-stage assistant so much she quits in the middle of a show. On the spot, Burt hires a stage tech named Jane (Olivia Wilde) to replace her and immediately begins trying to get her in what he calls the largest bed in Las Vegas in his suite. She declines. After the show, Burt and Anton see a street magician named Steve Gray (Jim Carrey) with a camera crew following him. He’s shooting scenes for his TV show and performs a trick that requires him to cut open his face with a knife. Gray’s stock and trade are tricks that are more about punishing his body and shocking the audience. Burt is disgusted and refuses to consider Gray a magician but soon attendance at their shows begins to drop. Concerned about falling ticket sales, hotel owner Doug Munny (James Gandolfini) calls Burt and Anton into his office and orders them to freshen up their act which hasn’t changed since they started in the showroom. Anton thinks up a stunt where he and Burt are locked in a glass box suspended by a crane over the Strip where they will stay for several days. Soon after they are hoisted up, Burt becomes claustrophobic and manages to pop open one side of the box and the pair falls to the sidewalk. Anton has broken ankles and ribs but Burt is just bruised. Anton is furious that Burt ruined the stunt and quits the act. Jane quits as well. Being full of himself, Burt tries to go on without Anton but the act is terrible and Munny fires Burt. With no money and nowhere to live, Burt looks for any job he can get and begins performing sleight of hand magic at a nursing home. There he meets his childhood hero Rance Holloway (Alan Arkin), the magician that got Burt fascinated with magic. At first reluctant, Rance agrees to help Burt rediscover his love of magic and to get better performing close-up tricks to prepare for a gig at Munny’s son’s birthday party. Munny, who is about to open a new high-end hotel and casino, announces a contest to find the headliner for his showroom who will receive a five-year contract. Burt desperately wants to get back on top but he must first reconcile and reunite with Anton and Jane in order to have the slightest chance.
I had my doubts about “The Incredible Burt Wonderstone” and it proved some of them to be correct, but not all. The worst sin of the film is its inconsistency. It has moments of great humor and the kind of madcap comedy the trailer seems to promise. That promise is not kept with any regularity as the movie swerves wildly from very funny to mildly funny and then to not that funny.
The one aspect of the film you can count on for dependable humor is Jim Carrey. After several less than stellar movies, Carrey has put all of his considerable talents into making Steve Gray the scene stealer of “The Incredible Burt Wonderstone.” Carrey, who digs into his “Ace Ventura” bag of tricks, delivers the kind of over-the-top character we hadn’t seen for a while. Gray is willing to do anything to his body in his stunts/illusions and Carrey makes it all very funny.
Carrey is willing to do what most of the rest of the movie will not: Take a chance. While the story could have been fertile ground for a great deal of hilarity, it usually doesn’t step across the imaginary line between “safe” and “zany.” While Carrey appears to have been given carte blanche to do as he saw fit, the rest of the cast seems to have stayed in safe mode. Carell is pretty good about being fearless as Burt. He doesn’t mind playing someone who’s a pompous ass at the beginning of the film. His character predictably morphs over time as this type of film requires but never loses all of the pomposity. Still, Carell falls back on some of the crutches he’s used in other comedies like repeating the same gag multiple times in an effort to make the repetition what makes the joke funny. It rarely works. He also plays Wonderstone as a person who, despite all his worldliness, is inexperienced with how the real world works for those of us who don’t have room service to deliver our meals and pick up the dirty dishes. This ignorance is mildly funny but also becomes a bit racist in one scene. Steve Buscemi is decent as Anton but he delivers his lines in a kind of sing-song way that I found a bit distracting. James Gandolfini is pretty good in this comedic role. While the occasional hint of Tony Soprano comes out here and there, Gandolfini works the Vegas mogul with the bad toupee routine for all the laughs you might expect from such a supporting part. The person who I feel most sorry for in the cast is Olivia Wilde. Her role as Jane is woefully underwritten and she’s mostly used as an ornament for Burt and for Gray for whom she works briefly. While comedy may be a bit out of her element, Wilde is a very good actress and deserves more than just being the token female character who will eventually fall in love with the lead actor no matter how unlikely that might be. The romantic element of the film is unnoticeable until it is sprung on the audience near the end. It feels forced and out of place since Carell and Wilde have absolutely no romantic chemistry whatsoever. None of this is Wilde’s fault as she does the best she can with what she’s given in the script. It just isn’t much and it isn’t very good.
“The Incredible Burt Wonderstone” is rated PG-13 for sexual content, dangerous stunts, a drug-related incident and language. The sexual content is very mild and mostly involves discussions of sex. A couple is shown in bed kissing but they are fully clothed. The Steve Gray character performs several stunts that range from dangerous to impossible so please, don’t try them at home. There is discussion of a plant from the Far East used by the indigenous peoples that renders them unconscious. It is also used as a plot device later. Foul language is scattered and rather mild.
“The Incredible Burt Wonderstone” is a silly, light-weight movie that requires nothing of the audience but to purchase a ticket. It has several glaring plot holes and its humor is inconsistent. It wants to be a crazy, out of control comedy with goofy characters willing to do anything for a laugh; but, as with many films with this aspiration, it plays it far too safe and only allows one character to go over the edge. Still, the film does provide enough humor and a few mild surprises to be worth your time and money.
“The Incredible Burt Wonderstone” gets four magical guitars out of five.
Four new films desperately want your love, but more importantly your money, this week. I’ll see one of these films but I need you to tell me which one. Vote for the next movie I’ll review.
Admission—A straight-laced Princeton University admissions officer is caught off-guard when she makes a recruiting visit to an alternative high school overseen by her free-wheeling former college classmate.
The Croods—When the cave that has always been their home is destroyed – with the rest of their world not far behind it – The Croods, a pre-historic family, are forced to set off on the first family road (or path) trip.
Lore—Left to fend for herself when her SS officer father and mother, a staunch Nazi believer, are captured by the victorious Allies at the end of World War II, Lore, a fourteen-year-old German girl must lead her four siblings on a harrowing journey across a devastated country.
Olympus Has Fallen—The unthinkable happens when heavily armed and highly trained terrorists launch a bold daytime attack on the White House. The building is overrun, and the President and his staff are taken hostage. It’s up to one lone Secret Service agent to save them all.
Stan’s Choice—Stan sees and reviews any film currently in theatres.
Release dates are subject to change and not all films may be shown in Knoxville, TN.