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Review: The Incredible Burt Wonderstone (2013)

The Incredible Burt Wonderstone (2013)

Directed by: Don Scardino

Premise: A pair of aging Las Vegas magicians (Steve Carrell and Steve Buscemi) is replaced by a new performer (Jim Carrey). Finding themselves out of work, the magicians must reinvent their act.

What Works: The Incredible Burt Wonderstone works best when it treads on satire. After a brief prologue that establishes the childhood friendship of Steve Carrell and Steve Buscemi’s characters, the picture skips forward to the twilight of their success. The pair has not changed their act in decades and has become a stale fixture of the Las Vegas entertainment scene. At this point they are confronted by a street magician (Carrey) whose performances aren’t really magic but acts of masochism and self-mutilation. For the first third of the movie, The Incredible Burt Wonderstone plays very much like Anchorman and it is mostly successful at that. What success the movie has is mostly due to a strong supporting cast that is doing the best they can with this material. Alan Arkin plays an elder magician who comes out of retirement to retrain Steve Carrell’s character and Arkin brings his cantankerous manner to the role, often stealing his scenes. Jim Carrey is impressive as a character that is clearly a parody of David Blaine. The actor has a talent for creating unique and wholly conceived characters and he does that here with great success. Also notable is Olivia Wilde as an assistant. The filmmakers and actress recognize the utilitarian nature of this kind of female role and work at expanding her character beyond a pretty face even though they ultimately give in to standard romantic tropes in the ending.

What Doesn’t: The Incredible Burt Wonderstone is clearly intended to follow in the footsteps of Anchorman and the film suffers whenever it deviates from that template. There are two key elements of Anchorman that are missing here: the campy tone and the goofy lead character. After the opening, The Incredible Burt Wonderstone shifts and the filmmakers try to play it straight but the movie fails to sustain a consistently comic mood. The picture never takes off. It is always stuck and never fully forms its satire or other comic elements. It is as if the filmmakers began making one movie and then changed their minds mid-production, and the result is a clash of comic sensibilities and moviemaking styles. The irregular tone of The Incredible Burt Wonderstone derails Steve Carrell’s performance. In the opening, Carrell plays the character as a weak incarnation of his role as Michael Scott on The Office. This clearly is not a challenge for Carrell but it at least gives him something to work with. The Incredible Burt Wonderstone gets into trouble when it tries to redeem his character. Both Michael Scott and Burt Wonderstone are funny when they are terrible people. As Carrell’s character gains humility, learns to respect women, and ultimately redeems himself, he becomes less interesting to watch and the filmmakers cast out the very gag that underlies the premise of the movie. It’s no longer a farce but it isn’t a situational comedy either and the rest of the movie isn’t very funny. The filmmaking of The Incredible Burt Wonderstone also leaves a lot to be desired. This is the debut feature for filmmaker Don Scardino, who has extensive experience directing for television, and often the movie looks like a primetime network comedy instead of a feature film.

Bottom Line: The concept of The Incredible Burt Wonderstone is much better than the actual movie. It plays like a Saturday Night Live skit adapted into a feature film. There are some interesting characters but the movie isn’t funny enough to sustain a feature length.

Episode: #432 (March 24, 2013)