THE INCREDIBLE BURT WONDERSTONE Review

The Incredible Burt Wonderstone is a stupid movie, but that does not mean it isn't endearing. That waft of stupidity that floats off the screen isn't necessarily a stench, but instead there is that certain something to be liked about it. This is mainly due to the inability to dislike the principal cast members. As lead by Steve Carell the film evolves from a satire on the world of magicians to a tale of redemption within a man who has forgotten what it is like to find something truly inspiring and worth putting their effort into. From the opening moments of the film it is clear what kind of film this is going to be. It is comedy comfort food in its highest form and in many ways there is nothing wrong with that except for when it fails to meet the simple standards this category upholds. I went into the film with fair expectations as the trailer the studio put together wasn't particularly impressive and even gave off the tone of a movie that fell apart after the initial idea was thought to be something of a great joke. Whether this was for the purposes of making the audience not as disappointed in the film or because they were in fact unsure of what exactly they had on their hands here, the final product is better than the marketing material hinted at, but it doesn't ever go far enough or become weird enough to be that highly ridiculous comedy I so badly wanted it to be. Carell is always appealing, though I wonder how some will take his characters personality that goes against everything usually attributed to Carell as a man, and it is nice to see Jim Carrey returning to what he does best even if his time is limited here. I wanted to like The Incredible Burt Wonderstone more than I actually did, but it wasn't horrible and that's probably the best thing you can say about it.

Steve Buscemi, Steve Carell, and Olivia Wilde in The Incredible Burt Wonderstone.
When I say this is comedy comfort food I mean it in the way that the film begins with that single moment in childhood that will forever define the kind of person our main protagonist is going to be. It was odd as earlier in the week I watched the 1997 "comedy" RocketMan starring Harland Williams and it began with that all too familiar opening scene of the boy pretending to be an astronaut prophesying what would eventually come to be truth as an adult. That is of course a movie not highly regarded in any circles, but it is memorable for the ridiculous performance Williams gives and his off the wall antics that are so stupid you can't help but laugh. So, when The Incredible Burt Wonderstone began in a very similar way it was easy to see where all of this was going. When little Burt (Mason Clark) receives a magic kit featuring famous magician Rance Holloway (Alan Arkin) from his single mother who works so much she leaves it up to him to make his own birthday cake, he is instantly hooked and sees it as an escape to the bullying he receives at school. Subjected to the same insults and tormenting Burt quickly forms a bond with Anton (Luke Vanek/Steve Buscemi) that extends into his new found magic passion that eventually becomes a partnership that becomes the hottest magic act on the Vegas strip. There are plenty of funny little moments that add to the comedy of the first half hour or so of the film and I was especially optimistic as it was a promising start that rolled into funny characterizations of how much these two young boys had grown up and grown apart. There are elements from the trailer you forget will be included in the film with Jim Carrey not playing as dominant a role as expected and Alan Arkin not coming in until later in the second act, but Carell knows what he has here and knows how to play with the tone. This proves the movies prevailing positive quality as he completely immerses himself in the outrageous qualities of his character.

Carell is, and I've said this before, a movie star that really is to be treasured as he seems to have a unique ability to actually relate to an audience in a way that doesn't seem jaded by the Hollywood brand he has become. Though that might seem like a difficult thing to do when portraying an outlandish and silly magician but the predictable yet endearing (there's that word) journey Burt has to go on allows Carell to let those qualities shine through and he does it so well. And while his Burt Wonderstone is naturally the title character and therefor receives the biggest amount of attention the highlight of the film still tends to be the fearlessly hilarious performance of Carrey. His riff on a Criss Angel/David Blaine like magician who is more about outrageous stunts than actual magic is hilarious and it reminds every single person in the audience why Carrey became the comic force he did in the mid-90's. It's been far too long since we've seen him in this form and though he doesn't appear often enough it's evident he is having a good time playing this small role he can really dig into. When he plays it is so outlandish and caters so well to his strengths you can't help but hope he gets his own spin off movie despite the success of this film. The one you almost forget about in the film tends to be the unnecessary love interest subplot featuring Olivia Wilde. I don't mind Wilde and I like that she enjoys starring in these stupid and ridiculous comedies because I like stupid and have no problem embracing it. It is by the simple fact that she just doesn't have much to do here that her presence is wasted. She is rushed in as a replacement stage girl and is the victim of a running joke that doesn't have a strong enough payoff to warrant the time devoted to it. Her character simply exists to fill as a strong example of just how far Burt has evolved as a grown man and a human being. She wants to be a credible female magician and there are hints of the movie wanting to dive into this further, it just doesn't have the time or care to bother with it.

Jim Carrey plays Steve Gray, a Criss Angel-like magician that rivals Burt Wonderstone.
The same could be said for Alan Arkin as he is almost criminally underused. If you're able to get such a name and well renowned actor to do a comedy like this (though it was no doubt a favor to Carell as they also starred in Get Smart together) you utilize his talents much more than they do here. As stated in the beginning it is this fine cast of characters that make The Incredible Burt Wonderstone worth a look and allow it to be a fair amount of fun for the hour and forty minute running time that drags too much in the middle. There is a strong premise here with the rivaling magicians, a great idea that shows potential in spots, but never becomes as funny as it could have been or as ridiculous as it needs to be. It relies too heavily on the structures of too many comedies that have come before it and too sentimental for too long a stretch of time that the tone feels uneven. Thankfully, the finale is well worth the time spent dragging through Burt re-discovering himself. I wanted this to be a movie I came out loving as I am generally more open to these kinds of broad comedies that have such exaggerated characters and a plot that isn't believable in the world the rest of us exist in yet it is hard to buy into the overall trick Burt Wonderstone is trying to pull when it feels even it isn't sure of what it wants to be. Coming back around to the characters and the actors that so boldly and assuredly play these outlandish people though creates the endearing quality that shines through that stupidity of the films plot and allows the audience to care, to laugh, and to ultimately have a good time at a movie that could have just as easily been a disaster.