Starring: Steve Carell, Jim Carrey, Steve Buscemi
Directed by: Don Scardino (TV’s “30 Rock”)
Written by: Jonathan M. Goldstein (“Horrible Bosses”) and John Francis Daley (“Horrible Bosses”)
It used to be that magic was something as simple as a few card tricks, pulling a rabbit out of a hat or in the case of the most famous magician of all-time Harry Houdini, performing death-defying escape acts. Somewhere along the line, however, acts like Criss Angel and David Blaine showed up, who while maintaining the traditional sense of magic, began injecting large-scale, often endurance-based stunts like being trapped under ice or standing on things for long periods of time. With this came the transition from Vegas acts to TV specials. The landscape of magician-related entertainment was changing. As a very loose social commentary of sorts, “The Incredible Burt Wonderstone” shows the exaggerated difference between old-school and new-school magicians.
As people get tired of watching the recycled acts of Burt Wonderstone (Steve Carell) and Anton Marvelton (Steve Buscemi) they begin to flock to street magician Steve Grey (Jim Carrey) who performs absurd stunts. When Wonderstone and Marvelton have a falling out, Wonderstone is forced to come up with a magic act on his own for the first time. When Burt has a revelation that he isn’t the same on his own, it is up to him to try to reconnect with a partner to win back his audience.
Though “Burt Wonderstone” has its comedic moments that work, it is surprising how little of the laughs come as a direct result of the seasoned comedic cast. Carell’s character is brash, annoying, and has character traits that seem to come and go at random (his accent, for example). Buscemi disappears halfway through the film, having failed to make a true comedic impact. His return later on doesn’t provide much humor either. Carrey’s appearance winds up being more of an extended cameo. He will periodically appear on the screen to do his wacky trademark Carrey stuff and then just disappear for large chunks of time. Simply put, nobody in the cast is particularly funny despite some of the scenarios they are involved in hitting their mark.
Most of what works in “Burt Wonderstone” comes from sight gags, both subtle and occasionally overtly goofy. Things like Wonderstone trying to perform a magic trick after the separation between him and his partner are legitimately funny. Other magic tricks performed during the film are actually amusing. That isn’t to say all of them are. Carrey’s character, which is the most obvious Criss Angel exaggeration possible, makes his living off shocking stunts that are too grotesque to be considered magic. The first of his stunts involving a card trick and a knife is particularly funny, but the concept of stupid stunts wears out its welcome fast. It is definitely not helped by the over-the-top performance Carrey is know for delivering.
The final act of the film is absurd, but thanks to a pretty funny epilogue, is somehow acceptable. Mainly, “Burt Wonderstone” wastes its strong comedic cast. The subject matter is a little outdated with traditional magicians and magic shows seemingly weaning in popularity. But perhaps even cloaked in irony, the goal of “Burt Wonderstone” is to reignite people to that type of entertainment.