Yes, I know, “The Incredible Burt Wonderstone” is supposed to be mainly a Steve Carell vehicle, but his character is by far the worst part of the film and is outshined at every turn by the ones played by Carrey and Alan Arkin (and even Olivia Wilde, at times).
So yeah, Jim Carrey as Steve Gray is a not-so-subtle skewering of the likes of Criss Angel and David Blaine and is consistently laugh-out-loud hilarious and outrageous in all the right ways, to the point where I wish the movie was mostly about him. Carrey just sort of throws himself into this and doesn’t pull a single punch, making it pretty obvious how much contempt he (and the script writers) have for guys like Blaine and Angel. It’s delightful stuff, really, and there’s a spark to it that just isn’t found in the main story.
Which is a shame, because a comedy that takes specific aim at Vegas stage and street magicians is a great idea, it’s just that the whole affair feels wildly undercooked.
Carell plays Burt Wonderstone, a flamboyant, arrogant jerk who also at one point was near the top of the magician food chain, with a standing show at Bally’s Casino.
However, after decades of doing the same show night after night, audiences have grown tired of his crushed velvet jumpsuit and lame gimmicks. To the point where their manager (and Bally’s owner), Doug Munny (James Gandolfini), tells Burt and his stage partner (and best friend) Anton (Steve Buscemi) to either get a new act or get out.
Unwilling (and unable) to adapt to the outrageous, gonzo style of physical endurance feats that guys like Steve Gray perpetuate and popularize, Burt’s arrogance and selfishness leads to the sudden dissolution of his stage partnership and lifelong friendship with Anton. Now near-penniless (an endless string of hilariously poor investments has wiped out the millions he once earned), Burt is forced to move from the hotel penthouse to a crummy motel, all while trying to figure out how and where it all went wrong.
This is all well and fine and a set up for a decent movie, the problem is that none of it ever really gels. For one, Carell’s basically playing the same sort of arrogant, buffoonish riff that made his Michael Scott character so hilarious in “The Office,” but that’s just it. We’ve seen this before, and done better, although I’ve never found it nearly as funny as some.
Also, this is sort of a nitpick, but it annoyed me to no end that they show precisely how Anton and Burt pull off their big show-stopping trick at the end of the movie. I mean, it’s bad enough that you can pretty much guess exactly how it happens, but it would have been a nice cap to have at least one trick that isn’t completely explained the way nearly every other bit is.
That said, what unequivocally works is Carrey and Arkin. Arkin plays Rance Holloway, a retired magician who inspired Burt to get into magic in the first place. Arkin’s a pro,
of course, and is as delightful to watch as he ever is and reminds once again just how much I wish he’d do more comedies. That man is a treasure.
Carrey steals the show, however (just in case I hadn’t made that clear earlier). I’m not sure I can quantify how much I hate guys like Criss Angel and David Blaine, because their particular brand of self-serious, narcissistic “showmanship” is as annoying as it is insipid. Not to mention how banal some of their “endurance tests” are. Which means that when the payoff finally hits for Steve Gray’s “magic,” it made me burst with laughter like nothing else in the movie. It’s silly and absurd but it’s just so very on-target.
Mostly I left feeling like the script had more that it wanted to lampoon regarding Carrey’s character than Carell’s, and it probably would have benefitted the film greatly to zero in the focus, at least if it were to remain as undercooked overall.
It’s hard to recommend “The Incredible Burt Wonderstone” if what you’re expressly looking for is a good Steve Carell movie. Thankfully, Carrey and Arkin do well enough with what they’re given to make this worthwhile (though, I wouldn’t pay more than a matinee price).