Movie Review: ‘The Incredible Burt Wonderstone’

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

Reviewed by Ian Forbes

Abracadabra! Alakazam! Presto Chango! Great Googly Moogly! Huh, none of those magic phrases seem to be working. The Incredible Burt Wonderstone remains a rather limp and ho hum comedic affair. Oops, I was supposed to hold the reveal until the end. I’m really a terrible magician, aren’t I? Good thing this is a film review.

Speaking of which, this one concerns a Vegas magician (Steve Carell) whose fame has left him out of touch with reality and is being overshadowed by the new up-and-coming street magician (Jim Carrey). Oh, but it’s also about the breakdown of Carell’s magical friendship with lifelong friend and co-headliner Steve Buscemi. And it’s about an aspiring female magician (Olivia Wilde) who will predictably fall for the fallen hero once he gets his act together (puns always intended). And it’s about 100 minutes long (insert canned laughter normally reserved for CBS sitcoms).

There are some genuinely sweet moments. There are even a few jokes that made me laugh out loud. There are also significant stretches of the movie that fall flat or seem to be written from a scriptwriting 101 program where one only needs to input the character names in order to receive a bland but finished product.

Carell does his usual shtick, mixing over-the-top narcissism with a lack of common sense and sprinkling in a dash of contriteness to make the character arc conclusion in the third act even remotely plausible. Buscemi is removed from the middle section of the film and is nearly always overshadowed by the spotlight on Carell. Fans of the sketch show In Living Color will enjoy some of Carrey’s work as much of it is reminiscent of something he did/would have done on the show but here he’s a rather minor villain, if one were to call him that. With the other aforementioned plot lines to work through, it never really becomes a true magic battle, despite some actual face-to-face prestidigitation.

There are two standouts but each come with a caveat. First of all, Alan Arkin adds so much life and warmth to his scenes; it’s just a shame that pretty much every role written for him in the last six or seven years asks for the exact same performance. It’s always fun but there’s never any surprise as to what he’s going to contribute. Second, there’s Olivia Wilde. She’s the audience’s representative in the whole project, seeing these crazed magicians for the blowhards they are; but once her lifelong dream of being a magician herself kicks in, the character simply switches into the role of the supportive wannabe girlfriend and fails the Bechtel test … badly. Still, she’s gorgeous and added to the flagging energy level present for so much of the movie so I thank the filmmakers for choosing her for the role.

Really, upon trying to look back at what I just watched, I’m left more nonplussed than anything else. I wonder how much better this might have been if it hadn’t been for the PG-13 rating. Each of the cast knows how to punch things up when they’re not hamstrung by adhering to the guidelines necessary to ensure a large segment of non-finicky moviegoers simply buy tickets to whatever’s newest or was featured on the last commercial they saw before leaving the house. Had this been a R-rated affair, some of the gags might have played to greater effect and it would have helped shed the cookie cutter trappings in which The Incredible Burt Wonderstone finds itself encased.

I’ve seen plenty of worse comedies and this probably won’t be the worst film I see all week (I’ll go ahead and predict The Call earns that distinction). However, I wouldn’t outright recommend the movie to anyone in my social circles and would put this on the same level as some of Carrell’s other works lately like Get Smart and Date Night. They make sense in that weekend afternoon cable TV kind of way but I wouldn’t say that’s necessarily a good thing when it comes to feature films.


The Incredible Burt Wonderstone hits 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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