Title: The Incredible Burt Wonderstone
Director: Don Scardino
Starring: Steve Carell, Steve Buscemi, Olivia Wilde, Jim Carrey, James Gandolfini, Alan Arkin, Jay Mohr, David Copperfield
The Incredible Burt Wonderstone is so moronic that it magically could work with select audiences. As for the rest of society, there’s no trick that can replenish those 100 minutes of your life.
Burt Wonderstone (Steve Carell) and his assistant Anton Marvelton (Steve Buscemi) have been performing classic magic tricks since they were kids. While moving up the ranks, hotel mogul Doug Munny (James Gandolfini) signs the duo to a 10-year contract to perform as his prestigious Las Vegas hotel & casino. Life is good for the inseparable friends.
As they plow through the ‘90s with the label of Vegas’ elite attraction, the 2000s are not as kind. Enter in the “Brain Rapist” Steve Gray (Jim Carrey). His rock star persona working in-concert with his torture-porn street magic stunts is edgy and rapidly garnering attention; leading to Burt and Anton’s audience to ironically vanish. And to make matters worse, Burt has become so arrogant and self-involved, that his passion is nowhere to be found; which Anton refuses to put up with anymore.
Eventually it all falls apart, and the stubborn, and now broke, Burt ends up living in a dive hotel.
The production has a ton of issues but the one thing they nailed was the character’s physical appearances. Carell’s “Burt” looks like magician Lance Burton and Roy (from Siegfried & Roy) had a love child. Or just picture a late ‘80s David Bowie. Carrey is essentially portraying illusionist Criss Angel (The Mindfreak) and actually having fun again (a.k.a. making us laugh again). Additional supporting players come in the form of Olivia Wilde as a wannabe magician, who looks up to Burt despite his womanizing behavior. Alan Arkin does some excellent cameo work as Rance Holloway – a traditional magician that Burt became infatuated with as a kid. He encounters the now 75 year-old Holloway while trying to make ends meet performing tricks at a lowly retirement home.
And while the concept of following around over-the-top magicians in the atmosphere of Las Vegas and a retirement home should lead to an amazing cinematic show, the filmmakers didn’t have the balls to go all the way with it (i.e. the PG-13 rating).
Ladies and gentlemen, this should have been rated R. The script teases going to the extreme yet you can feel how concerned the filmmakers were about crossing that line. And by holding back, it transforms this into a numbing watch party. If you followed the magic scene in the last decade (as yours truly did) and watched Angel’s television show “Mindfreak” and/or were into the stunts performed by the like-minded David Blaine, then you may find a little more humor than the casual viewer. However, with all the hustle the entire above mentioned cast is showing, they are chained to material that wouldn’t even qualify as an opening-act at dive bar off Las Vegas Boulevard.
The reason a spoof, which is this, such as 2010’s MacGruber worked mildly well is because it just went all-in on the shenanigans. With the angle found in Wonderstone, the filmmakers played it safe and missed some golden opportunities.
Overall, there are a few chuckles to be had when the crude intelligence is allowed to shine via the game cast. But for the most part, Burt Wonderstone’s act gets tired quicker than a hooker’s approach in The Palms lounge (so I’m told).