Steve Carell and Steve Buscemi in "The Incredible Burt Wonderstone."
The Incredible Burt Wonderstone
The film-going public was introduced to funnyman Steve Carell as a supporting player to Jim Carrey's lead in the God-complex comedy "Bruce Almighty" (2003). Ten years later, Carrey is playing backup to Carell's protagonist in "The Incredible Burt Wonderstone." And while the roles have reversed, the outcome is similar -- a middling chuckler with lackluster writing that fails to leave a lasting impression.
Magic serves as an entertaining backdrop for this otherwise mediocre undertaking, with Carell playing the part of applauded Las Vegas magician Burt Wonderstone. The audience meets Burt at his most vulnerable, as a youngster perpetually bullied and left to his own devices by his absentee mother. A birthday gift in the form of a magic kit sets Burt on his future path, a direction further cemented when Burt meets fellow outcast Anton.
As adults, Burt and Anton (Steve Buscemi) have the hottest act in Sin City, but their traditional theatrics are growing stale. Burt's overblown ego has become a liability and edgy newcomer Steve Gray (Carrey, in an obvious caricature of street magician Criss Angel) is starting to transform how Vegas views magic. The lifelong friendship between Burt and Anton is torn asunder as casino mogul Doug Munny (James Gandolfini) seeks new ways to attract an audience.
"Wonderstone" is an enticing concept but lacks the laughs to back up its potential. The film's first half is almost arduous viewing, as Burt is so narcissistic and tactless that he is utterly unlikable, which all but dissolves any empathy built for the character in the film's opening scenes when Burt is a child. Fortunately, the picture picks up quite a bit in the second half, both in the story and humor departments. But there are only a handful of laugh-out-loud moments, such as when Carrey is trying to sleep on hot coals or Carell and Buscemi pass out after inhaling a faint-inducing vapor.
The casting is mostly solid -- especially Olivia Wilde as an aspiring magician and the always reliable Alan Arkin as an aging one. Buscemi and Gandolfini, however, are odd fits (although, to be fair, both seem fully invested in their parts). Director Don Scardino has a resume made up mostly of television gigs, and unfortunately it shows. The movie itself feels almost dated, with a soundtrack that boasts predictable and long-forgotten tunes. ("Magic," anyone?)
Part of the reason "Wonderstone" misses the mark is that magic itself is meant much more for the stage than the big screen. In person, magic can be hypnotic, but on film it is little more than adequate visual effects. And while the reunion of Carell and Carrey is something of a treat, the dynamic duo can't quite pull a rabbit out of this cinematic hat.
Rated PG-13 for sexual content, dangerous stunts, a drug-related incident and language. 1 hour, 40 minutes.
- Tyler Hanley