Steve Carell, Jim Carrey, Steve Buscemi, Olivia Wilde, Alan Arkin, Jay Mohr, James Gandolfini DIRECTED BY
Don Scardino SCREENPLAY
Chad Kultgen, John Francis Daley, Jonathan M. Goldstein, and Tyler Mitchell MPAA RATING
Rated PG-13 RUNNING TIME
100 Mins. DISTRIBUTED BY
Warner Brothers DVD EXTRAS
“Making Movie Magic with David Copperfield”
"The Incredible Burt Wonderstone" lacks the wonder it needs...
The Incredible Burt Wonderstone is the kind of film that you really, really, really want to like a lot more than you will actually like. With three popular stars in Steve Carell, Steve Buscemi and Jim Carrey along with a generally easy to enjoy cast, The Incredible Burt Wonderstone looks and feels like a film that should be one of early 2013's more popular experiences.
Then, there's reality.
The Incredible Burt Wonderstone isn't a bad film, mostly because its quite able cast refuses to let it be. In fact, it's a film that warrants a modest recommendation despite the fact that it falls disappointingly short of its potential and director Don Scardino plays it ridiculously safe considering the risk-taking cast he's assembled. This could have been a comedy free for all, but instead it becomes a fairly safe yet still fairly entertaining endeavor if you're willing to lower your expectations and just go with it.
Burt Wonderstone (Steve Carell) is an old school magician whose ego still has him at the height of his glory days when he acquired his Vegas gig alongside lifelong friend Anton (Steve Buscemi). The problem is that it's now ten years later and the Wonderstone shtick is outdated and pales in comparison to the glitzier and more self-mutilating magical marvels of Jim Carrey's Criss Angel-like Steve Gray, a viral video wonderland of mysticism and masochism all rolled into one. James Gandolfini is the casino owner who knows that Wonderstone's time has passed, a decision that relegates the pompous and not particularly likable Wonderstone to gigs in nursing homes and other retail outlets. It's at said nursing home, however, that Wonderstone comes across his childhood hero, Rance Holloway (Alan Arkin), a man whose presence seems to inspire in Wonderstone a, um, magical rejuvenation of soul and spirit that turns the film into an occasionally blissful balance of darkly comical and sweetly sentimental endeavor.
There's really not much brilliance to be found in The Incredible Burt Wonderstone, a fact it's hard not to find at least a bit disappointing given the comic geniuses involved in the film and just the fact that the feels constantly on the edge of something truly amazing. The only one who really taps into amazing is Carrey, whose career path as of late has sort of resembled that same face made by folks like Adam Sandler and Will Ferrell as they struggle with how to remain relevant in the ever changing Hollywoodland. They've all three found moments when they tapped into something special, but they've all three also see their box-office receipts and Hollywood clout start to wane a bit against the backdrop of younger up-and-coming actors who show up and do things a bit better and just plain different.
It's a story not that far removed from the one that unfolds here, a story where Burt Wonderstone has become a pompous and self-serving variation on his former inspired self but will hopefully find inspiration and a way to remain relevant before it's too late.
Carrey is both an obvious and an inspired choice as Steve Gray, a role that allows Carrey to dip back into his bag of physical comedy tricks while also showing off his quietly absurdist self. Jim Carrey fans are likely to acknowledge this as his most appealing work in quite awhile, both in terms of over the top comedy and credible acting.
Unfortunately, the character of Burt Wonderstone is a bit more troubling. While the character ultimately survives thanks to Carell's inherent likability, Wonderstone never really becomes a genuinely sentimental favorite or someone you're going to end up rooting for in the end. While that's not really necessary in the realm of dark comedies, Scardino never really fully commits to the whole "dark comedy" effort that would have made Wonderstone's character make sense. In all likelihood, Carell can pull off dark comedy without a hitch. He's just not given much of a chance to do so here. Scardino's approach isn't exactly timid, but neither is it risk-taking. As such, Wonderstone needs to be at least a little bit sympathetic and there's very little sympathy to be found for the character. It seems like it's an issue not of Carell's performance, but of actual character development and directorial choice.
Alan Arkin is an absolute hoot as the old school magician whose still got some gas in the tank, while Olivia Wilde makes the most that she can out of the fairly one-note "potential love interest" role. One mustn't forget Steve Buscemi, whose quirky yet sentimental persona is used wisely here as Wonderstone's best yet long-suffering friend. Buscemi is gifted with one of the film's better scenes, a scene that is unfortunately revealed in one of the trailers.
Really, Warner Brothers?
Unlike the other opener this weekend that completely collapses as it winds down, The Incredible Burt Wonderstone actually strengthens in its final third with a final illusion that would make Oz completely tremble with delight. It's actually the film's final third that makes you realize just how brilliant The Incredible Burt Wonderstone really could have been given its gifted cast.
Entertaining and consistently funny shouldn't feel so disappointing, but it's hard not to be disappointed knowing that there was so much more wonder to be found in The Incredible Burt Wonderstone.