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Film Review: The Incredible Burt Wonderstone

daniel cohen does the old slight of hand …


Plot: When the magician duo of Burt Wonderstone (Steve Carell) and Anton Marveltone (Steve Buscemi) suffers at the arrival of Steve Gray (Jim Carrey), a self-mutilating street magician, the duo have a falling out. The arrogant Burt loses everything as he tries to rediscover his roots on why he got into magic in the first place.

Just because you put Steve Carell and Steve Buscemi in funny costumes dancing on stage to ‘Abracadabra’ doesn’t automatically make your movie funny. Technically, The Incredible Burt Wonderstone is a comedy, but I didn’t hear anyone laughing. It’s a very lazy film. From the very first scene, we get the cliche bully chasing down a young Burt and telling him nobody will ever like him. Then Burt goes home to an empty house, with only a note from his mom telling him dinner is in the fridge. Could we try a little harder? But despite not being very funny, this movie actually isn’t that bad, but it’s a complete waste of the talent involved.

Let’s start with Steve Carell. While I think he’s a decent actor, I don’t find him that funny like a lot of people do. He’s fine here, but for the majority of the film, he’s expected to carry it, and he just isn’t capable. And while I get the first half of the movie he’s supposed to be an egotistical asshole who has to find himself again, he’s too unlikable a protagonist for me to really latch onto. People like Jim Carrey and Will Ferrell are good at being likable jerks, but Carrel just feels like the jerk. The character is just so shallow and clueless, that you have to make him funny, and Burt Wonderstone isn’t that at all.

Steve Buscemi as Burt’s good-natured partner Anton is a complete waste here as well. He’s perfectly fine in the movie, but they do absolutely nothing with the character. To the film’s credit, the other performances really save this movie. James Gandolfini as the casino owner who employs Burt and Anton is pretty amusing. He always looks like he’s about to get annoyed by something, but then just gives up. Olivia Wilde brings a lot of charisma to the film, and is an actress who needs to get better movies. The only thing with her character that was annoying is a long running joke about Burt continuously getting her name wrong. This joke was infuriating. Was there nobody on the set that could see this joke was terrible? Ugh.

Even though the film is pretty dry in the first half hour, once Alan Arkin’s character comes into play, it’s still not funny, but at least he brings some heart into the picture. Arkin plays Rance Halloway, the magician who Burt looked up to in his youth. It was nice to see these two washed-up magicians bond, and help each other out of their funks. Even if your someone who doesn’t care about magic like myself, Carrel and Arkin do a good job of bringing out the childhood awe that I’m sure everyone felt at some point when first seeing a magic show. And that’s why it’s impossible to really hate this film.

But let’s stop beating around the bush. The man who steals the show is obviously Jim Carrey. And the main difference between someone like him and Steve Carrel is that he can elevate bad material. He’s got dialogue here that only Carrey could make hilarious. But to be fair, his character (Steve Gray) does get the best bits in the movie. And it’s not the crazy type of Carrey performance, it’s more of the subdued Carrey. And one of the strengths and weaknesses of the film is that Carrey is the antagonist, yet you find yourself siding with him more. There’s a scene at a magicians bar where Burt calls Gray out on being just a shock artist, not a real magician. And while he’s right, Gray’s retort back to him is hard to argue. The script wants you to root for Burt, but they make Gray the much stronger character.

The movie wants you to see Gray as a total asshole, but he really isn’t that bad. Burt is definitely more of the egotistical jerk in the first half of the film. And the best scene in the movie by far is when Burt and Gray basically have a ‘magic-off’ at a kid’s birthday party. And Gray isn’t just doing shock stuff, he’s doing some legitimately impressive magic, yet the movie makes the bull shit argument that Gray is a bad guy because he’s burning his skin in front of kids. Oh please … it’s not that this sentiment is wrong, but the way the argument is presented in the film feels very forced.

Another thing that really irked me was the very end. By this point, we are supposed to be in love with Burt and Anton. They are the better men. They perform their magic with nothing but heart and childlike wonderment. And I get this is a comedy, but what they do at the end is so damn unethical and illegal, I’m sorry, I can’t just laugh it off like the film wants me too. I won’t spoil what happens, but it’s a complete contradiction when we’re supposed to get on Carrey’s character for burning his skin, but fall in love at what these two jackasses do to an entire audience of innocent people … ridiculous.

The movie is never boring and entertaining enough, but aside from Carrey, there are no laughs to be found. It’s hard for me to be completely cynical about this film because of Alan Arkin’s role, but the end gag really did piss me off. I would rent this at some point and just watch the Jim Carrey scenes, but other then that, there’s no reason to see this.

Rating: 5 out of 10 (Barely Passable Entertainment)

Daniel Cohen
Daniel Cohen
Daniel Cohen likes movies and bagels, and that’s pretty much it. Aside from writing Box Office predictions, Daniel hosts the monthly Batman by the Numbers Podcast on the Breakcast feed. Speaking of Batman, If Daniel was sprayed by Scarecrow's fear toxin, it would be watching Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen on a non-stop loop.

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