The Incredible Burt Wonderstone
Director: Don Scardino
Starring: Steve Carell, Steve Buscemi, Jim Carrey, Olivia Wilde
We live in the age of stunt magicians. The days of pulling rabbits out of a hat have been replaced by “magicians” completing incredible feats of human endurance such as suspending themselves in glass boxes without food for more than a month. It seems that the director Don Scardino is no fan of David Blaine (who makes an amusing cameo), as he champions the seemingly bygone era of magicians as family entertainers. The trouble with celebrating old-fashioned entertainment is that Scardino needs to complete the hardest trick in Hollywood – making clichés seem fresh and funny. Sadly, the director is no David Copperfield; he should have asked the magician for tips during his brief appearance.
The comedy is also a story of changing fortunes. It begins in 1982 with young Burt being easy pickings for bullies until he watches a teach-yourself-magic videotape that soon makes him the most popular kid in school and wins him a new best friend, Anton. Fast forward to present-day Las Vegas and the young kids have transformed into Carell’s egocentric Burt Wonderstone and Buscemi’s mild-mannered Anton Marvelton with a magic act that has become a Las Vegas staple in a hotel run by James Gandolfini’s Doug Munny.
But after a decade of performing the same show, audiences are dwindling and the friendship between Burt and Anton has strained to breaking point. They are also facing new challenges in the shape of the street magician Steve Gray (Carrey), whose array of tricks include pulling playing cards out of his cheek and not blinking while being blasted with pepper spray. Carrey reminds us of his own past glories playing the upstart (despite actually being a year older than Carell) and delivers the sort of zany performance that once made him box office gold. Speaking of how times have changed, Carell made his international breakthrough as a supporting character in the Carrey vehicle Bruce Almighty and now it’s Carrey piggybacking on a Carell movie to receive a career boost. That the Ace Ventura star steals the movie is another drill in the head to the story’s attempts at celebrating old-time magicians.
As the film runs its predictable course and the jokes run dry, Burt finds redemption and romance with his assistant Jane (Wilde fails to make the most out of very little to work with), while not even the ever-reliable Alan Arkin can give the action any sparkle.
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