It won’t change the face of comedy, but it’s got enough laughs to make it worthwhile.
The Incredible Burt Wonderstone is, more or less, what’s expected — which is not necessarily a bad thing. The script is garbage. It’s an outline to get from point A to point B in the shortest way possible, offering little character development, or even plausible plot development. It isn’t some Judd Apatow-esque story that combines raunchy laughs, but also infuses it with genuine heart (aka a real film), nor is it like a classic Farrelly Brothers movie (Dumb and Dumber, There’s Something About Mary) that’s great as a whole. No, this is just a way to get some funny people together and have a good time. And in that sense, it pulls it off. No one will leave the theater with a new understanding of what comedy can do, instead it offers up comedic performances and a magic hat full of laughs.
Really, it’s a movie full of gags but somehow they land. Mostly, the credit goes to the cast who are all genuinely funny, as well as being genuine actors, but director Don Scardino, mostly a TV director best known for 30 Rock, seems to know that he’s not working with anything high brow and goes for broke. Olivia Wilde is shoehorned in as the love interest, which is the biggest drag of the story, but she holds her own in individual scenes and brings out some good moments from Steve Carell. The story is also quite simple.
Carell is Burt Wonderstone who, along with his partner Anton Marvelton (Steve Buscemi), is an aging magician, delivering the same Las Vegas act for a decade. Filled with ennui disguised as arrogance, he’s thrown when the next generation street magician Steve Gray (Jim Carrey) begins to steal his spotlight. Gray, obviously modeled after the likes of Criss Angel and David Blaine, is more concerned with shocking or grossing out his audience than doing magic. The decline in popularity for Wonderstone and Marvelton leads to a falling out, with Wonderstone refusing to conform to the new trend, or change in any way. It’s the classic story of fading into oblivion. Does Wonderstone need to conform to Gray’s twisted tricks? Considering Gray is the villain of the story, no, he just needs to find the magic within himself and reignite his passion.
Wilde, as Jane, acts as the assistant for Wonderstone and Marvelton who’s thrusted into the position, only to be best friends with them a scene later. Her character is the most obviously lacking, nor does she provide any of the laughs. But it seems to be mandatory that such a story demands a love interest. And while it’s great to see a female share a passion for magic, something relegated to nerds as the film points out, it’s disheartening that in a film of underdeveloped characters, hers only exists for Wonderstone to find love. It’s even more disappointing because that aspect of the film is the most boring. Buscemi, while no stranger to comedy (hint: Adam Sandler films), is rarely used as he is here. With a stupid smile plastered to his face, Anton dances and awkwardly grinds Jane on stage, along with Wonderstone, to the Steve Miller Band’s wholly dated “Abracadabra,” dressed in sequined suits and highlights to boot. He works well as Carell’s right hand man, who carries the film on his antagonizing shoulders at his curmudgeonly best. Carrey, a truly underrated dramatic actor but perhaps the best living physical comedian, gets a shot as the villain, a role he rarely takes on. If anything, he’s not featured enough and while his character is clearly a full on parody (as is Wonderstone, if to a lesser extent), he nails the character. Alan Arkin also shines as aging magician Rance Holloway, Wonderstone’s idol. Like Buscemi, he’s not in unfamiliar territory, but it’s still great to see him go for broke.
It’s the take-it-or-leave-it type of comedy film. One that has the laughs, but nothing underneath the hood. Those just looking for a fun night out and a few laughs are sure to enjoy it. But anyone looking for something with some depth, as well as jokes, should look elsewhere.
Rating: 3 out of 5