The Incredible Burt Wonderstone ReviewMarch 31, 2013
While somewhat entertaining, there is no comedic magic to be found in The Incredible Burt Wonderstone.
Movies about magicians seem to be all the rage these days. We recently got Oz the Great and Powerful, and this summer we will also see a crime thriller involving a troupe of magicians called Now You See Me. For now, we have The Incredible Burt Wonderstone, which many could argue is the comedic version of The Prestige. I did not see a trailer or hear much about this film going into it aside from the aspect of dueling magicians, but the talent involved did excite me. A cast that includes Steve Carell, Steve Buscemi, comedic legend Jim Carrey and the great Alan Arkin was enticing enough. It’s also notable that the script is served up from the writers of Horrible Bosses, and director Don Scardino has been praised for his work on 30 Rock. With the wide range of talent attached to this project, does The Incredible Burt Wonderstone prove to be comedic magic?
Burt Wonderstone (Steve Carell) and Anton Marvelton (Steve Buscemi) have been friends for over thirty years. Both social rejects in school, they found a common love in magic, and soon their hobby transformed them into international stars in a long-running magic act in Las Vegas. However, after many years of doing the same schlock, the two begin to experience a falling out in their friendship. Burt has lost his true passion for what he loved as a kid, so now he is self-obsessed and only cares for the wealth and pleasure that comes from fame. This is only accentuated when a popular new street magician named Steve Gray (Jim Carrey) appears on the scene, who uses extreme physical pain to engage audiences in live performances and his TV show. After a poor attempt to one-up their new opponent, Burt and Anton end their friendship, which soon results in the cancellation of Burt’s magic act. Now jobless, Burt is faced with the prospect of either starting a new life, or rediscovering that original spark that inspired him to be a magician in the first place.
I will not deny that The Incredible Burt Wonderstone entertained me. I took two of my friends to see it on a Saturday night, and there were moments when we laughed our heads off. Even so, considering the great talent involved with this picture, The Incredible Burt Wonderstone is a surprisingly stupid film. By that, I do not mean the kind of comedy that has made Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Dumb & Dumber and Napoleon Dynamite so popular over the years. In contrast to those films, The Incredible Burt Wonderstone is deliberately silly in the wrong sort of way. Many of the jokes fall flat, although there are genuinely hilarious moments laced throughout its runtime. This can be traced back to a crucial part of the story – the characters.
The problem is that nearly 100% of the characters in The Incredible Burt Wonderstone are despicable. The writers definitely recognized this since a lot of the comedy in this film is meant to reflect their contemptible natures, but it backfired for me since most of the time I felt pity instead of the urge to laugh. This also led to me never truly caring about Burt Wonderstone’s story arc either, for he is unlikable to the point that I lost interest in him from the outset. He simply wasn’t relatable to me at all, which is a critical writing mistake. In addition to being morally objectionable and simply not that funny, The Incredible Burt Wonderstone eventually outstays its welcome. Comedies generally last 90 minutes, and a ‘just okay’ film like The Incredible Burt Wonderstone should stick with that rule to keep an audience’s interest. However, the film lasts 10-15 minutes longer than it should, so there are certainly parts that felt dragged out. Also, there is a lesson to be learned in this film for those who truly have a passion for something – especially for a dedicated film writer like myself.
The cast certainly seemed to have tried their best in this production, and in some cases they are successful. Steve Carell is generally known for playing timid, nice men, but I found him to be very funny in The Office in his role as Michael Scott. Many episodes called for him to be an absolute douche, and he pulled it off very well in that show, often providing some truly memorable moments. However, in The Incredible Burt Wonderstone his attempt to play a jerk nearly falls completely flat. In fact, this same effect carries over to many of the actors in this film’s ensemble.
The acting talent in this film is actually pretty great; the cast features the great Alan Arkin, Steve Buscemi, Olivia Wilde, James Gandolfini, and Jim Carrey in a standout role. Unfortunately, the script forces most of their characters to be absolutely unlikable – and forgettable – people. Olivia Wilde is immensely attractive as always, but her character is shamefully trodden down by the other actors. Jim Carrey is undeniably the highlight of The Incredible Burt Wonderstone, which is ironic considering that his character is the one that the script labels as the villain. Carrey plays his role in the most obnoxious, maniacal and utterly physical manner possible, resulting in the funniest performance he has given in years. It’s just disappointing that the other great talent in The Incredible Burt Wonderstone is wasted.
Overall, The Incredible Burt Wonderstone is not spectacular at all, but I must admit that there are genuinely funny moments in there. What could have been the first, great comedy experience of the year has turned out to be a crushing disappointment. I will give The Incredible Burt Wonderstone some credit for churning out some great comedic moments – most of them from Jim Carrey in his top form – along with presenting a theme of never letting your passion become a chore. Even so, The Incredible Burt Wonderstone is a mediocre comedy at best due to its wasted talent, a predictable and weak narrative, along with a myriad of despicable characters. While there is some comedic magic in this grand Hollywood act, it just isn’t enough.