The Incredible Burt Wonderstone Review – The Magic is Missing

Steve Carell, Steve Buscemi, and Jim Carrey star in The Incredible Burt Wonderstone
Steve Carell, Steve Buscemi, and Jim Carrey star in New Line Cinema's comedy 'The Incredible Burt Wonderstone,' a Warner Bros Pictures release. Photo by Ben Glass

Reviewed by Kevin Finnerty

“Your ticket sales suck,” says Doug Munny (James Gandolfini) to Burt Wonderstone (Steve Carell) and his partner in magic for 30 years Anton Marvelton (Steve Buscemi), explaining why he’s considering canceling their contract and hiring flavor of the month street and cable television magician Steve Gray (Jim Carrey) in the comedy movie The Incredible Burt Wonderstone.
After years of being one of the number one attractions on the Las Vegas strip, Burt and Anton have gone from being the best of friends to two people who barely speak off stage. Burt has developed an enormous ego and has become a pompous, self-loving jerk who’s lost all his original passion and love of magic. He doesn’t even bother to remember the name of their new assistant, Jane (Olivia Wilde), and keeps calling her Nicole. Just going through the motions in their stale and predictable magic act, the magical duo are faced with an ultimatum from their boss: either come up with something original or out they go. So Anton comes up with a new stunt called “The Hot Box”.
After their stunt in the “Hot Box” goes horribly wrong and destroys Burt and Anton’s friendship/partnership, Burt is finally forced to face the reality of his world which is, he wasted most of his money in dumb investments and extremely overpriced novelties. Desperately needing a paying job and having basically blacklisted himself in the world of magic, Burt is forced to take a job at an old entertainers home to perform magic tricks for the residents. While doing a simple card trick poorly, Burt gets heckled by one of the older gentleman in the audience. Irritated, Burt confronts the old man and discovers it to be none other than Rance Holloway (Alan Arkin), his childhood idol whose VHS tape he watched as a young boy to first learn about magic. Talking to Rance and getting him to team up with him to perform at Munny’s son’s birthday party, Burt slowly begins to fall in love with the sense of wonder and excitement that drew him into the world of magic in the first place.
The Incredible Burt Wonderstone is an uneven, humorous comedy that has a strong cast but a one-dimensional and all-too-familiar plot. Carell almost seems to be miscast in the first half of the film as the egotistical, self-loving Wonderstone. In fact, one has to wonder if Will Ferrell passed on the role which seemed to be almost tailor-made for him. Carell does improve in the second half of the film as his character gets back in touch with who he was before the fame.
Jim Carrey is very effective as the mean, pain-obsessed street magician Gray who’s determined to steal the spotlight away from Burt and become the number one magician in Vegas. His night on a bed of hot coals is sure to have the audience both laughing and cringing at the same time.

Olivia Wilde in The Incredible Burt Wonderstone
Olivia Wilde in 'The Incredible Burt Wonderstone' - Photo by Ben Glass
The big surprise in the film is Olivia Wilde as the nervous and loyal assistant Jane. Some of the funniest scenes in the film are with her and her character’s promotion to being Burt and Anton’s assistant. She has great comedic timing and holds her own opposite Carell and, later on, Carrey. The film would have benefitted had her character been in it even more.
Unfortunately, the movie is all over the place with the writers and director never really deciding what the film should be. It struggles to be a buddy reconciling film, a mentor and protégé film, and a fall and rise of a hero-magician film. It’s a jumbled, uneven movie which could and should have been much better.
As it is, The Incredible Burt Wonderstone is a predictable, mediocre comedy with a few laugh-out-loud moments that is worth seeing – but only at a matinee price.
The Incredible Burt Wonderstone opened in theaters on March 15, 2013 and is rated PG-13 for sexual content, dangerous stunts, a drug-related incident and language.

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