‘The Incredible Burt Wonderstone’: From abracadabra to zzz
A review of the fitfully amusing comedy “The Incredible Burt Wonderstone,” which stars Steve Carell, Steve Buscemi and Jim Carrey as rival Vegas magicians.
Seattle Times movie critic
‘The Incredible Burt Wonderstone,’ with Steve Carell, Steve Buscemi, Jim Carrey, Olivia Wilde, Alan Arkin, James Gandolfini. Directed by Don Scardino, from a screenplay by Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley. 101 minutes. Rated PG-13 for sexual content, dangerous stunts, a drug-related incident and language. Several theaters.
Some movies are very good but not enjoyable; other movies are enjoyable despite being not particularly good. “The Incredible Burt Wonderstone,” a loosely comedic tale of Las Vegas magicians, fits neatly into the latter category; you watch it thinking that it should be smarter and funnier, but you have a pretty good time anyway. It’s the kind of movie that should go down quite nicely with an extra-large popcorn and moderate expectations.
Directed by Don Scardino (TV’s “30 Rock”), “Burt Wonderstone” pits old-school magic vs. new-school shock spectacle, or at least that’s the idea. Burt Wonderstone (Steve Carell, precisely tanned) and Anton Marvelton (Steve Buscemi, precisely blond) are a pair of longtime friends who headline the kind of Vegas show in which they wear sequined red velvet, make schticky jokes about their female assistant Jane (Olivia Wilde) and perform the same elaborately costumed “illusions” they’ve been doing for years.
Business starts falling off, because younger audiences are more interested in street magician Steve Gray (Jim Carrey), who calls himself “Brain Rapist” and is a regular on the channel IntenseTV. His particular form of magic has more to do with self-mutilation: tricks like burning his arm with the candles at a child’s birthday party, then showing off how the scar says “Happy Birthday” — in cursive, Steve says, to the awed kids.
You don’t need a rabbit and a hat to see where this story is going: Burt and Anton feud; Burt and Jane fall in love; Burt/Anton and Steve eventually have a sort of magic-off; Steve hammers in a nail with his head (ouch); David Copperfield (who doesn’t appear to have aged since the ’80s; maybe he really is a magician) makes a cameo appearance. The characters, except for Jane, feel like caricatures instead of people; the magic too often is obviously CGI; and the humor is wildly inconsistent — sometimes it’s hilarious, sometimes painfully flat.
But “Burt Wonderstone” finds magic in its casting. Carell, gliding through the movie like he’s not quite touching the ground (Burt does look as if his hair comes from some unearthly paradise), brings his trademark likability to a character who could be unbearable; Buscemi, in a smaller role, revels in his own oddballness; Carrey, perfectly controlled, makes the tattooed, biblical-looking Steve a small masterpiece of comedy. (This guy describes his work as “dream realities,” speaking the phrase so reverently it almost means something.) Alan Arkin and James Gandolfini bring their own inimitable hocus-pocus; Wilde is charming as the sole voice of sanity.
The movie’s full of scenes you wish were better, like one where a group of Vegas magicians (including someone called, quite wonderfully, Rick the Implausible) hang out in a bar, taunting a so-over-it bartender by changing a $100 tip to $1. Maybe someday, a remake of “The Incredible Burt Wonderstone” will be a truly great comedy. In the meantime, it’s fun while it lasts — and sometimes, we need movies like that.
Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or firstname.lastname@example.org