Review: The Incredible Burt Wonderstone
PLOT: Two Las Vegas magicians are forced to confront their dwindling popularity in the face of a bold new rival, an outlandish street performer.
REVIEW: It’s no comedic masterpiece, hell, it’s not even traditionally “good”, but there’s something quite charming and embraceable about THE INCREDIBLE BURT WONDERSTONE. Don Scardino, a longtime director of “30 Rock”, has brought the inherent charm that show possessed into this film - which contains a by-the-numbers plot and several they-should-be-funnier sequences - and that charm makes all the difference in the world. It also helps that Scardino is working with a top-notch cast who are able to sell the movie’s handful of really good bits; and those good bits are enough to put BURT WONDERSTONE over the top. Or close enough.
Steve Carell’s Burt Wonderstone is the kind of character we usually see Will Ferrell play: an obnoxious, pompous oaf who is too dumb to know he’s vastly overrating himself. Wonderstone is a successful Las Vegas magician who, with his partner Anton Marvelton (Steve Buscemi), has played the exact same show for countless years. It has gained him plenty of money and women, but the monotony and benefits of the act have blinded Wonderstone to the fact that things are getting stale and the audience is looking for something new.
Something new comes in the form of a street magician and “brain rapist” named Steve Gray (Jim Carrey), a long-haired creep who performs ridiculous stunts more than he does magic; his specialties include holding his own urine for over a week and sleeping on a bed of hot coals. Wonderstone is appalled by the act (he calls it “monkey porn” for reasons that are never clear), but there’s no denying that it entrances the public, leaving Wonderstone and Marvelton watching from the sidelines.
From there, WONDERSTONE goes through the predictable motions: Burt and Anton have a falling out, while their assistant (Olivia Wilde), disappears from their lives and starts grudgingly working for the competition. Soon after, Burt finds to his horror that he has dreadfully mismanaged his finances and has to sink to working at supermarkets and old age homes. It’s at the latter where he rediscovers his mojo, as it were, thanks to a washed-up magician named Rance (Alan Arkin), who Burt idolized as a kid. Will Burt come to terms with the fact that he’s a self-important jerk and needs to reassess his ways? Will he and Anton re-team? Will Burt connect with the girl he doesn’t realize he loves, all while conquering his rival? You tell me.
Burt Wonderstone as a character seems like he’d be more at home in a thirty-second TV spot, or a mildly amusing SNL skit; there’s not much to him beyond the initial bombastic idiocy and then his eventual plastic sweetness. Burt doesn’t do anything we don’t expect him to do, following the contrivances of Jonathan M. Goldstein and John Francis Daley’s screenplay to a tee, but Carell is such an endearing performer that we’re drawn to the character’s warmth. Of course, your gravitation toward the dopey magician will depend on your appreciation for the comedian; I like him, would not go so far as saying I’m a fan, but I find him sweet-natured, which goes a long way here.
Perhaps even more crucial to the film’s cause is the supporting cast, which is uniformly splendid. Olivia Wilde is her approachable, cute-sexy self; the quintessential hot girl you can relate to. Buscemi doesn’t have a ton to do, but he’s Steve Buscemi, and his very presence brings Anton to a quirky level it would not have achieved otherwise. (There’s a very amusing tangent involving Anton’s foolhardy mission to bring “magic” to third world countries as opposed to, you know, food and water.) Arkin has a few scene-stealing moments as a bitter performer, while James Gandolfini gets to show off some comedic chops as a temperamental casino owner. Even Jay Mohr provokes a chuckle or two, which I never thought possible.
As for Carrey, his is a pretty small role, all things considered, but it’s nice to see him doing full-on schtick, playing a faux-philosophical fraud in the David Blaine mold. A movie as lightweight and goofy as THE INCREDIBLE BURT WONDERSTONE is a natural habitat for Carrey’s particular talents, and he’s quite obviously enjoying himself here considerably more than in lameness like MR. POPPER’S PENGUINS or YES MAN. This is Carrey’s return to form, and it’s quite enjoyable to watch.