People like magic. Some people. I hate magic because I have no soul. I also don’t enjoy the singing of Julie Andrews for the same reason. (Sound of Music fans please leave your insults in the comments box below.) THE INCREDIBLE BURT WONDERSTONE is about maintaining one’s child-like joy in the art of illusion. I wish I could say it was otherwise, but AccessReel insists that I review the movie I saw, rather than the one I wish to see. So here goes…
When Burt Wonderstone (Carell) is a child in the 1980s, he is bullied by his schoolmates. His hard-working, single mother is rarely home and so Burt becomes a lonely latchkey child until he receives an excellent birthday present–a Rance Holloway (Adam Arkin) magic kit. He proceeds to learn all the tricks. He befriends Anton (Steve Buscemi), the new kid at school, who is even nerdier and needier than Burt. Burt and Anton become professional illusionists and eventually scale the heights of the entertainment world. They headline in a Vegas casino. There is a Burt and Anton Theater where their adoring fans see their amazing illusions every night.
The film properly begins here. Anton and Burt could not be more famous or wealthy, but their world is shaken by the appearance of Steve Grey (Jim Carrey) a street performer whose act involves self-harming stunts. Such is Grey’s impact, that the Old School cheesiness of Burt and Anton act tanks at the box office, threatening their professional life and friendship.
Burt in particular doesn’t know how to deal with his new reality and lashes out. In the 25 years it took him to get to the top, he has become a jaded, fake-tanned, blow-dried celebrity with an overly inflated opinion of his own value.
THE INCREDIBLE BURT WONDERSTONE (hereafter known as TIBW) is the feature film debut for veteran television director Don Scardino. The screenplay is by Jonathan M. Goldstein and John Francis Daley, best known as the pair who wrote HORRIBLE BOSSES (Daley is actually better known for his role as Dr Lance Sweets in BONES, but to me he’ll always be Sam Weir.) What is interesting about TIBW is that unlike HORRIBLE BOSSES or any of the Apatow-lite comedies of recent years, there is no edginess, grossness or sexual misadventure. It is generally PG-13 in its approach.
When TIBW is pulling the proverbial out of the ridiculousness of professional magic it is on solid ground. Burt and Anton are modeled on Siegfried and Roy, just as Steve Grey is a parody of Criss Angel. All worthy subjects of satire. But TIBW wants to have its cake, eat it and then make it appear behind the magic curtain for our amazed applause. There is more about the magic of magic and the reclaiming of one’s inner-child than one might imagine. This aside, it resembles a Saturday Night Live sketch idea that was built into a movie – and then had a redemption story imposed on its rickety structure.
Fans of Steve Carell and Jim Carrey are likely to be entertained. The pair do a solid, crowd-pleasing job of getting laughs. Buscemi, James Gandolfini and Olivia Wilde are largely wasted. Wilde in particular is left at sea by the script. The “girlfriend” part is usually the worst role in a film of this type, but Wilde’s story is not even properly tied up at the movie’s conclusion. Alan Arkin manages to rise above his Campbellian mentor role and be pretty damned funny as Rance Holloway, the magician whose kit started it all. And speaking of young Burt and Anton, the actors who play them as kids, Mason Cook and Luke Vanek, are surprisingly good.
THE INCREDIBLE BURT WONDERSTONE is an underwritten movie with three good comedic turns from Carell, Carrey and Arkin. It is currently screening in Australian cinemas. It runs for 100 minutes. I rate it 5/10.