I’m not exactly sure who was clamoring for a movie like The Incredible Burt Wonderstone. The film is a pseudo takedown of modern magic acts like David Blaine and Criss Angel, whose popularity peaked some time ago.
The movie stars Steve Carell as the self-named incredible one, a popular magician starring in a decade-long act with his dear friend Anton Marvelton (Steve Buscemi); two childhood best-buds who’ve grown tired of each other. Once a meek, picked on boy, Burt now woos the ladies with ease, lives in a lavish Las Vegas condo and proudly has the biggest bed in town.
Burt and Anton aren’t chummy these days. Though the show features big smiles and the same tricks of days gone by, Burt only cares about the fame and wealth it brings now. That is threatened by the hot newcomer Steve Gray (Jim Carrey), a magician who skips over the velvet outfits, poofy hair or even tricks most of the time. Steve’s specialty is rooted in shocks, slicing his cheek open to produce a playing card or sleeping all night on red hot coals. Burt and Anton don’t think much of him, but the rich fellow who employs them (an amusingly blunt James Gandolfini) does. Arguments and the standard bits of wackiness follows.
Incredible is a pretty decent comedy; far from a must-see but miles ahead of recent duds like Identity Thief. What it lacks in originality it makes up for with occasionally clever banter by screenwriters Jonathan M. Goldstein and John Francis Daley, plus a game cast whose wildly different tones come together under the directing hand of Don Scardino. A veteran of numerous acclaimed television shows, it’s his lengthy time on “30 Rock” that is brought to mind here, as he clicks into place the dryness of Alan Arkin’s aged magic-man, Carell’s oddball lead and Carrey’s manic nature. Not all of it works, but it all feels of a piece.
Carell’s amiable presence is the spine of the movie. His journey from self-deluded doofus to decent guy brings to mind Ben Stiller’s Zoolander. As he moves towards humility, complete with over-the-top emotional breakdown, a number of laughs emerge. Amidst a reconciliation with a former acquaintance, Carell tears up when told that there’s no way to express how much Arthur means to him. Carell sobs for another second before sincerely bellowing, “Yes, you could.” Later, a bit of sexual slight-of-hand produces a condom, followed by Carell revealing one of the Magnum variety, before shrugging and admitting it’s just part of the trick.
The Incredible Burt Wonderstone never reaches far, settling for amusing asides and simple character beats. That meagerness also relegates the movie to its inevitable cable bin, where one will likely watch twenty minutes alongside dishes, followed by a swift channel change. Not a horrible fate, nor a notable one.
The Incredible Burt Wonderstone opens wide all across Seattle tomorrow.