The Incredible Burt Wonderstone Review [SXSW 2013]
As predicted, The Incredible Burt Wonderstone is a silly albeit heartwarming comedy featuring the quintessential comedy stylings of Steve Carell. Steve Buscemi and Jim Carrey help round out a comedic cast not unfamiliar with this kind of cookie-cutter comedy pic, though no amount of over-the-top body humor (hello, Mr. Carrey) could make this movie anything more than a formulaic fluff-piece that will, no doubt, appease a good portion of the movie-going masses.
Here’s a rundown of the plot: Burt Wonderstone (Carell), a wimp-turned-super-magician, rules the Vegas Strip with his show The Incredible Burt Wonderstone and Anton Marvelton (Buscemi). He is increasingly disillusioned by fame, and growing tired of his best friend and co-host, Marvelton. When a new “magician” comes into town the likes of which neither of them has seen (Carrey), Burt must re-evaluate his life and what magic means to him.
The Incredible Burt Wonderstone does find its way to some genuine laughs. It has a decent flashback at the beginning in which we are treated to a young bullied and belittled Burt as he stumbles onto the magic of magic. We also get to see the inception of his friendship with an equally outcast little boy who grows up to be his co-host and magic partner, Anton Marvelton. It’s cute, it’s heartwarming and it’s a little funny. More laughs come as the story flashes forward to the present, and Burt and Anton have become famous magicians with their own show playing in the Bally Hotel in Vegas.
But all is not as magical as it might appear, and there is definitely trouble in paradise. A new type of magician is in town, one who has his own edgy reality show and isn’t afraid to get dirty on the streets of Vegas. Can Burt and Anton change with the times and update their show, or will their rift and Burt’s growing ego ruin all their lives?
Riffing on “street illusionists” like Criss Angel, the character of Steve Gray (Carrey) is a perfect foil for the old school magicians representing in Burt and Anton. The juxtaposition is funny in and of itself, and one of the more successful elements of the film. The less successful elements are the formulaic story itself, the silliness factor inherent in this kind of comedy, and Carrey’s gratuitous performance.
In a comedy like this, it is the performances of the comedians involved that can catapult the movie into something bigger/better than what it started out as. Sometimes there is this perfect storm of comedy synergism. Mostly though, comedies like The Incredible Burt Wonderstone are doomed to mediocrity because the comedians involved aren’t bringing anything new to the table.
We’ve all seen this Carell. We’ve all seen this Carry and even this Buscemi. With nothing new to offer us as far as comedic hijinks or even a stretching of talent, the movie falls flat. Carell’s performance is strong enough, but it was just as strong (and strikingly familiar) to the last few comedic characters he’s played. Buscemi does the hard-pressed good guy like a pro, but kind of fades into the background when put up against Carell and Carrey.
Carrey’s performance is typical and almost strained. It felt sometimes as if he was trying to too hard, and his Steve Gray character was not just off-putting, but almost disturbing. When Carrey tries subtle, he can give moving performances. On the other hand, an overt Carrey is sometimes just too obnoxious and self-absorbed to watch.
One of the lighter notes of the movie came in a surprisingly good performance from Oliva Wilde as Jane, a long-suffering magician wannabe. The surprise isn’t that Wilde can act, but that she can be genuinely funny. Her performance, unlike Carrey’s, is subtle enough to elicit some true and almost intimate comedic moments.
As far as directing goes, Don Scardino (30 Rock) does a competent but not particularly noteworthy job. Coming from mostly TV directing, he’s able to prove that he can easily maneuver a feature comedy film. Some great supporting performances also came from Alan Arkin as aging magician Rance, and James Gandolfini as a self-involved hotel mogul.
Overall, this isn’t a terrible movie. It has a few heartwarming moments and some genuine laughs, but it’s just like a slew of other comedies and so it’s nothing new. If you like this type of comedy, you’ll like The Incredible Burt Wonderstone and won’t mind plunking down some money to see it. If you’re looking for something that’s better than average though, you may walk away not feeling any of the magic.
The Incredible Burt Wonderstone is by no means an awful film, and it does have some genuinely funny moments, it just offers nothing new and comes off as stale and recycled for the most part.