The Incredible Burt Wonderstone: Review

By Tony LaScala · March 18, 2013

After delving into underrated dramatic turns in Crazy, Stupid, Love, Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, and Hope Springs; funnyman Steve Carell (The Office) performs a sleight of hand and quickly shifts our focus onto a more traditional Hollywood comedy stage with his turn as magician Burt Wonderstone in The Incredible Burt Wonderstone. While the movie wont materialize gut bursting laughter from thin air like a true breakout comedy hit, Wonderstone is sure to delight many a comedy starved theatre goer post Ides of March with its cast’s complete commitment to the farcical, narcissistic, and often amazing spectacle of stage illusionists.

The traditional connect the dots comedy follows Burt Wonderstone (Steve Carell) and his disenfranchised partner Anton Marvelton (Steve Buscemi) in the twilight of their careers after a nearly twenty year run in a top Las Vegas casino performing their “going through the motions” magic show. With the advent of vulgar un-magic street illusions made popular by the newly self-crowned king of magic Steve Gray (Jim Carrey), Wonderstone and Marvelton are on the outs and searching for birthday party work. Wonderstone must re-invent himself and re-discover the love of magic that brought him to the stage in the first place, with help of his former hero Rance Holloway (Alan Arkin) and former assistant Jane (Olivia Wilde) in order to rekindle his friendship with Anton and compete with shock jock Steve Gray to retake his stage.

Screenwriters Jonathan M. Goldstein (Horrible Bosses) and John Francis Daley (Horrible Bosses, Freaks and Geeks) have crafted a predictably average screenplay made above average by the full commitment to character of its cast. While the screenplay does little to break the mold of traditional comedy, it does tackle surprisingly fresh subject matter from the world of stage magicians. The pacing was good, with a peppering of smaller jokes built around a handful of larger ones; kudos to both writers for straying from the usual crude fare and leaning toward a comedy with heart. Apart from a few aptly placed “upper cusp of PG-13” jokes, the film was enjoyable by both adults and their wee ones in the packed theatre I watched from.

The film marked the triumphant returns of Carell, Buscemi, and Carrey to the realm of traditional Hollywood comedy, and each tackled their roles with a magician’s flourish. Bedazzled Carell wowed early with his quintessentially early 90’s illusionist’s garb and egotistical tone. Slowly Carell’s character becomes more and more likeable, until he was returned to the smiling goof we all fell in love with from The 40 Year Old Virgin.

Buscemi packs in the empathy with his oft ignored envisioning of Anton, the loveable assistant-like partner to Wonderstone. In the past we’ve all come to love Buscemi for his quirky characterizations of unapologetically violent sidekicks, but in Wonderstone Buscemi takes up the mantle of the stepped on and pushed aside Teller to Carell’s Penn.

While each of the cast brought their A-game (including splendid performances from James Gandolfini, Alan Arkin, Jay Mohr, and Olivia Wilde) none surprised more than Jim Carrey. Cast in the spotlight as of late for some odd off-set behaviors, the seemingly depressed Carrey was lost in the shuffle of Hollywood comedic stars with the advent of the new era of comedies. No longer considered a sure thing at the box office, Carrey takes a sidecar to Carell as the antagonist Steve Gray and tackles the role with the flair that can only be described as “Carrey-ism.” In his spattering of scenes Carrey whips his freakishly long blond locks in the faces of the non-believers and shrieks in pain at his self-induced shock illusions, all the while maintaining a commitment to character unmatched since his heyday as Ace Ventura.

Though it’s not as good as the break out hit Horrible Bosses, audiences will still find that this film houses a few decent chuckles. With a flourish of misdirection and a bit of flash paper, The Incredible Burt Wonderstone distracts the mind for nearly two hours and leaves the audience with the satisfaction of having laughed just enough to forget they’ve dropped a hefty chunk of their paycheck on a night out at the cinema. Thankfully the illusion withstands, powered by the cast’s wonderful characterizations and by the feel-good, “heart” quality woven in by its screenwriters. As the shroud of smoke dissipates, a movie is left behind that is sure to be just as enjoyable when viewed from the comfort of your couch.

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