Nothing Magical About ‘The Incredible Burt Wonderstone’

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Rating: 2.0/5.0

CHICAGO – It’s this simple – “The Incredible Burt Wonderstone” just isn’t funny. Sure, there are a few laughs here and there and some of the supporting cast works but the leads are woefully miscast and most of the jokes hit with all the awkward silence of a Bennigan’s tableside magician who guesses the wrong card. The script borders on Happy Madison caliber and watching talented people try to save it but just get bored in the process is tough. Recast the movie with the cast of “Grown Ups” and critics everywhere would put it on their worst of the year lists without a word changed in the script.

Horrendously miscast Steve Carell stars as the title character, one half of a Siegfried & Roy-esque Las Vegas duo with childhood friend Anton Marvelton (Steve Buscemi). Burt & Anton have been doing the same tired show for years and the dwindling interest and ticket sales have started to aggravate casino owner Doug (James Gandolfini). Burt is an egotistical ass, the kind of blustery character that seems more suited to Will Ferrell. He could be Ron Burgundy’s cousin. Anton is much meeker, probably due to being called homely, even by his best friend, most of his life. Both of them are kind of annoying.

The Incredible Burt Wonderstone
The Incredible Burt Wonderstone
Photo credit: Warner Bros. Pictures

The world of Burt & Anton is shaken when a street magician in the vein of David Blaine or Criss Angel, Steve Gray (Jim Carrey), appears on the Vegas scene. Gray is aggressively violent in his acts, cutting his face to pull out a spectactor’s card from under his skin or burning his arm at a kid’s birthday party, completely unconcerned that the wee magic fans may copy his act. He’s also becoming quite famous with his stunt magic, which forces Anton & Burt to try and alter their gimmicks. When a bit in a box over the Strip goes horribly awry, the two break up and the show is canceled. Can Burt make it back to the spotlight? Maybe he can with the help of a retired magic legend, Rance Holloway (Alan Arkin), and a former assistant (Olivia Wilde), who inexplicably still believes in him.

Part of the problem with “The Incredible Burt Wonderstone” comes down to casting. Carell doesn’t always need to play the nice guy – he certainly doesn’t in the upcoming “The Way, Way Back,” in which he’s great – but he simply doesn’t work as this kind of smug dinosaur. Burt Wonderstone is a relic, the kind of guy who has lived on the Strip for so long that he doesn’t know that every apartment doesn’t have room service. And Carell seems like too smart a performer to make that work. He just can’t play dumb to the degree needed for this character, who is a true moron. Similarly, Jim Carrey gives it his physical all but doesn’t have the energy of the people he’s mimicking like Blaine or Angel, who, I’m sorry, were two decades younger when they broke into the magic game. “The Incredible Burt Wonderstone” works best if it’s about a relic being almost overtaken by a young, cocky newcomer. Carrey makes that plot difficult.

The Incredible Burt Wonderstone
The Incredible Burt Wonderstone
Photo credit: Warner Bros. Pictures

The supporting cast of “The Incredible Burt Wonderstone” actually steals the show from the leads. The movie picks up notably when Alan Arkin joins in on the fun (I really hated it before then and only kinda hated it after) and Olivia Wilde has a charming, easy-going comic timing that’s underrated. With her upcoming part in Joe Swanberg’s “Drinking Buddies,” one really gets the feeling that her career is about to take off. She’s actually quite good here as the straight man to Carell and Carrey’s nonsense. Small parts filled by fun actors like Jay Mohr and Brad Garrett are also well-cast.

These are talented people. They have been great in great movies. So how does a comedy like this end up so inert? The script credits four writers, two who probably came up with the story and two more who came in to tinker with it (including John Francis Daley of “Bones”). Director Don Scardino brings his TV aesthetic to the piece (it has no visual energy at all), further proving that the transition from 22-minute comedy to feature-length isn’t easy. It seems like that all of the authorship tinkering combined with actors like Carell and Carrey who probably tailored their parts as well has led to a show with too many producers. When too many people get involved in one production, it often gets less edgy, as everything is ironed out to a degree that keeps everyone happy and makes nothing funny.

“The Incredible Burt Wonderstone” stars Steve Carell, Steve Buscemi, Olivia Wilde, Jim Carrey, James Gandolfini, and Alan Arkin. It opens on March 15. 2013 and is rated PG-13. content director Brian Tallerico

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