The Incredible Burt Wonderstone (2013)
Director: Don Scardino
Cast: Steve Carrell, Steve Buscemi, Jim Carrey
Synopsis: A veteran Vegas magician tries to revive his career after his longtime partner quits, he gets fired from his casino act, and an edgy new “street magician” steals his thunder.
There’s something undeniably nerdy about most conventional magicians no matter how bronzed their skin or white their teeth. You can’t help picturing their interest in magic originating as a refuge from the hateful attention of school bullies, and that’s how The Incredible Burt Wonderstone begins, with the titular character, a latchkey kid, receiving a Rance Holloway Magic Kit, for his birthday. It’s at this moment in his life that his love of magic — which he shares with Anton Marvelton, possibly the only kid at Burt’s school who’s more nerdish than him — begins.
We next meet Burt (Steve Carell) and Anton (Steve Buscemi — Fargo, Rampart) thirty years later, wearing the kind of glittery costumes worn by the likes of Siegfried and Roy as they perform a typically cheesy magic act at Bally’s, one of Las Vegas’s top casinos. Although their act is a throwback to the 80s, they still attract full houses at every show, and while Anton has remained essentially unchanged, all that success has gone to Burt’s head. He treats those around him like dirt and uses his fame to seduce a succession of willing females in ‘the biggest bed in Las Vegas’ (‘would you lke to see it nakedly?’ he asks a repulsed Jane (Olivia Wilde), yet another in a long line of female assistants, all of whom he insists on calling Nicole).
However, times are changing. Hard-core street magician Steve Gray (Jim Carrey — Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, The Dead Pool), a character evidently based on Criss Angel and David Blaine (with a little bit of Jesus Christ thrown in for good measure), is grabbing headlines with his masochistic feats of endurance, such as keeping his eyes open for days on end and lying on red hot coals, and suddenly Burt and Anton’s outdated act is finally recognised as the relic of a bygone age that it is by Bally’s boss Doug Munny (James Gandolfini — Killing Them Softly). When the stunt devised by Anton in response to Munny’s ultimatum to bring something new to the act goes disastrously wrong, the partnership is acrimoniously dissolved, and before you know it Burt is reduced to entertaining ancient Vegas entertainers in an old peoples’ home.
The Incredible Burt Wonderstone begins slowly, with few laughs in the opening act. In fact, it’s only when Burt is stripped of all the trappings of fame and success that the laughs start coming, but when they do, the jokes that work — and there are plenty of them — come thick and fast. Burt’s transformation from smug, preening egotistical bastard to caring, sensitive good guy is something of an abrupt one it has to be said, with few shadings on the journey from one end of the spectrum to the other, but the snowballing momentum of the movie means that, while it’s not possible to overlook such a glaring transformation, it’s at least possible to tolerate it. Although Carrell is the leading man — and is as good as you’d expect him to be — he’s overshadowed by Jim Carrey whose mad street magician successfully links the more traditional comedy elements of The Incredible Burt Wonderstone with the modern appetite for gross-out comedy. Steve Buscemi also gives a note-perfect performance as Burt’s self-effacing partner, although the movie could have benefited from a few more scenes featuring acerbic delivery of Alan Arkin (The Muppets, Thin Ice) as the retired and disillusioned Rance Holloway, whose top-hatted, black-cloaked, white-tipped-cane brand of magic presentation is even more outdated than Burt’s.