Not 'Incredible,' but it has some magic moments
“The Incredible Burt Wonderstone” is about veteran magicians who find themselves suddenly less relevant when Mr. New and Edgy shows up and upstages them on the Vegas Strip.
An art-imitating-artist moment for Steve Carell and Jim Carrey? Maybe. But when you've got those two, Oscar winner Alan Arkin, Olivia Wilde, Steve Buscemi and James Gandolfini in your cast, the four guys you paid to write this thing should have no trouble finding a laugh a minute.
We meet Anthony and Albert as bullied 10-year olds who find escape, and purpose, in a “Become a Magician” kit — VHS instruction tape included — featuring veteran prestidigitator Rance Holloway (Arkin). Thirty years later, Burt Wonderstone (Carell) and partner Anton Marvelton (Buscemi) have their own theater at Bally's, a steady fan base, gullible groupies (for Burt) and a boss (Gandolfini) who puts up with Burt's diva-demands.
They go through assistants like candy, and Burt is so arrogant that he calls them all “Nicole,” even after the latest Nicole quits and fetching backstage assistant Jane (Olivia Wilde) is pressed into service.
The crowds still come, even though this act is as stale as its “Abracadabra” theme song (Steve Miller's last big hit), even though Burt hurls insults at Anton backstage after every “impossible feat of impossibility.” Until the day that Steve Gray rolls into town.
Jim Carrey turns Gray into a long-haired guru of the gross — a magician/ stuntman who rolls up with a guerrilla film crew and stuns bystanders with routines that involve self-injury, followed by self-stitches. Carrey, sporting an “Escape from What?” tattoo and a Zen master-meets-street thug ethos — “Bad things don't happen to us, they happen for us” — makes this guy so scary and fun that you wish his “Brain Rapist” TV show were real. Because we'd watch it.
But to Burt? Gray's not a real magician: “He doesn't even have a costume.”
“Burt Wonderstone” lets us see the rise, and then fall, of Burt and Anton, their changing hairstyles and unchanging act. It takes Burt from the man with the “biggest bed in Las Vegas” to a drunk reduced to entertaining the seniors at a retirement home.
That's where he meets Rance, and tries to get his old magic mojo back.
The laughs come fast and furious for about 30 minutes, then they fade into occasional chuckles of recognition, or see clueless Anton deliver unwanted magic kits to starving Third World kids. Few jokes take us by surprise, but enough comic haymakers land to make “Burt Wonderstone” credible, if not exactly “incredible.”
Roger Moore is a staff writer for McClatchy-Tribune News Service.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.