The Incredible Burt Wonderstone
Don Scardino, director
John Frances Daley and Jonathan Goldstein, script
Starring: Steve Carrell (Burt Wonderstone), Steve Buscemi (Anton Marvelton), Olivia Wilde (Jane), Alan Arkin (Rance Holloway), James Gandolfini (Doug Munny), Jim Carrey (Steve Gray)
The film is being touted as a comeback for Jim Carrey, who hasn’t had a hit since Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind in 2004. Its mix of magic, mirth and mayhem is expected to generate large revenues.
Outrageous comedy; satire on magical acts
Burt Wonderstone (Carrell) and Anton Marvelton (Buscemi), childhood friends, are a top—and very arrogant–magic act in Las Vegas until they’re humiliated publically when their desperate attempt to match “extreme” magician Steve Gray’s techniques falls apart in front of the media. After being fired by his long-time boss, hotel entrepreneur Doug Munny (Gandolfini), Wonderstone’s career slides vertiginously to the bottom rung of Vegas: he becomes a performer at a retirement home. There, he meets his childhood idol Rance Holloway (Arkin), who grudgingly inspires him to return to his roots as a magician and as a nice guy. Reunited with Anton and his talented assistant Jane (Wilde), Wonderstone attempts to mount an incredible comeback—against Steve Gray. Will he succeed?
Jim Carrey is hilarious as the eccentric and egocentric Steve Gray. Regrettably, Carrell doesn’t match him. He’s just annoying playing someone pretentious in the film’s early scenes–and then he turns bland when he morphs back into a reasonable guy. Buscemi, Gandolfini and Wilde seem to have phoned in their performances, though, to be fair, there’s not much call for acting in any of their roles. That leaves Arkin as Wonderstone’s mentor Holloway—and he’s absolutely great in the role. But Carrey and Arkin can’t carry this film as supporting character actors.
The creative team
Director Scardino and scriptwriters Daley and Goldstein have failed to construct a well-made comedy. Steve Carrell’s titular character veers wildly from nice kid to pompous ass to decent fellow in record time. The film follows Carrell’s lead, searching for an identity and a comic rhythm while finding neither. There are occasional gags that are funny—and Carrey and Arkin are terrific—but this movie is a mess, thanks to its creative team.
Comedies are the toughest thing to do. If you don’t laugh, you know the film is bad. The Incredible Burt Wonderstone does have occasional gags that make you laugh. And Jim Carrey’s manic Steve Gray is hilarious. But that’s not enough to rescue a movie that could have been—and should have been—far better than it is.