Movie Review: The Incredible Burt Wonderstone
Austin360.com | Austin American-Statesman
There is something inherently goofy about magicians. The stage outfits, the hair, the tigers: Goofy.
There is also something inherently awesome about magicians (especially when you are a kid). The stage outfits, the hair, the tigers: Awesome.
The extent that magicians are or are not aware of the former (they sure are convinced of the latter) is an important point in “The Incredible Burt Wonderstone,” which is never completely sure if it is an absurd lark a la “Anchorman” or something a little more heart-string-tugging.
A good stage magician, a true stage magician, such as Wonderstone, is aware of the goofiness, fully embraces it and goes on with doing what he loves anyway, making it kind of awesome — clueless arrogance is a part of the character, as much of an act as sawing a lady in half.
And if you need a guy who is the king of arrogant-yet-endearing, Steve Carell is your man.
Here, under a post-human level of bronzer, he plays the titular Wonderstone, who falls under magic’s spell (sorry) when he gets a magic kit released under the brand name of magician Rance Holloway (Alan Arkin, here a mild mix of Rip Torn’s part in “Dodgeball” and Arkin’s character in the much harsher “Little Miss Sunshine”).
The kit inspires Wonderstone to team up with his pal Anton (eventually, Steve Buscemi), and they become wildly successful magicians on the Vegas strip. Loosely based on Siegfried and Roy (veeeery loosely), Burt and Anton are in the middle of a successful run at a mega-casino owned by James Gandolfini (of course). Burt is pretty insufferable, Anton suffers anyway, as theirs is a “magical friendship.”
When Steve Gray (Jim Carrey, looking extremely fit yet a little old for this part) arrives on the scene with his “Steve Gray: Mind Rapist” (no, really) show of David Blaine/Criss Angel-style of weird/gross stunts for their own sake, Burt and Anton suddenly seem like old news. It would never occur to Wonderstone to lock himself in a box suspended over the Strip because, well, there’s no magic there.
Written by John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein and directed by noted TV director Don Scardino, “Burt Wonderstone” hits the mark now and then.
But it is driven almost entirely by well-known quantities: Carell’s almost superhuman likability when he is being a self-involved doofus and Carrey’s rubbery menace. Neither part breaks any particular ground for either actor or the audience.
And while Carrey is always good for a certain amount of bizarre, his age really does work against the logic of the plot. Part of the appeal of Daivd Blaine and Criss Angel was that their work was very much against a previous generation of stage magic. Both Carrey and Carell were born in 1962; nine movies out of ten, this wouldn’t matter. But if you are playing the upstart, you shouldn’t look older than the guy you’re rebelling against.
Olivia Wilde plays an aspiring magician pulled into the Burt and Anton drama. Jay Mohr plays another magician at the magician’s bar and, well, this is gonna sound weird, but this movie could have used a little more Jay Mohr, and when your movie needs more Jay Mohr, your movie needs more movie in general.
Some of the jokes work. Most of the tricks are practical (or analogue) rather than involving digital effects, which is welcome. There are a lot of hand doubles.
But there isn’t much of a story. Burt is a jerk. Can he not be a jerk? Steve Gray is a jerk. Does his talent negate his jerkiness? That’s pretty much it. And that’s not exactly magic.