Craig's Movie Breakdown: The Incredible Burt Wonderstone

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Directed by Don Scardino, this 2013 comedy film follows its title character, a longtime Las Vegas magician and fan favorite (played by Steve Carell), as he attempts to reunite with his former partner, Anton Lovecraft (Steve Buscemi), to take on a new and dangerous rival--a street magician by the name of Steve Gray (Jim Carrey).
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The Lead-up:

A comedy about street magicians feels about as relevant as a documentary on the type-writer. Hasn't the David Blaine-Criss Angel phase died down a bit? I hardly ever see an episode of "Mind freak" anymore, nor have there been any specials showcasing Blaine's abraca-narcissism either. It doesn’t surprise me that “Burt Wonderstone’s” script was bought in 2006. Why it took til 2011 to re-work it is anyone’s guess. So the only real reason to see it would be for the re-teaming of Steve Carell and Jim Carrey; Carell of course stole every scene in the Carrey-starring “Bruce Almighty.” “30 Rock” veteran Don Scardino takes on directing duties while John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein (two thirds of the team who wrote “Horrible Bosses”) are credited with a script that has gone through many hands on it’s way to being fully developed.

The Plot:

A bullied young boy with the unfortunate last name of Weinzelstein is given the life- changing birthday present of a Rance Holloway (Alan Arkin) magic set. It would be the thing that sets him up with his best friend for life and takes them both, going under the stage names of Burt Wonderstone (Carell) and Anton Marvelton (Steve Buscemi), all the way to headlining Ballys in Vegas, dressed like Siegfried and Roy clones to the tune of Steve Miller’s “Abracadabra”. But 10 years later, a new style is forming. Street magicians introducing more of an aspect of danger, like Steve Gray (Carrey), are the new hot thing and Burt and Anton’s struggle to compete leads to Anton getting injured and Burt losing more of his fame. It takes some soul-searching by Burt to repair the friendship and get ready to earn his fame back when the boss of Bally’s (James Gandolfini) creates a competition that offers a hosting deal to the best magical act.

Review:

There’s no doubt that “Burt Wonderstone” works best because these actors are completely incapable of holding a straight face. The material works fine but were it not for these stars bringing it to a maximum degree of silliness it wouldn’t be nearly as funny. Take Carell, balancing a role that requires him to be both an arrogant ass and pitiable fool and notice how on most occasions the pitiable fool is just as funny (he gives a distressed little whimper at any sign of discomfort) if not more so than the other. And Carrey makes for a real creep of an antagonist. One could say Steve is a horrible vision of what constantly trying to one-up things done for shock value could look like and really who better than Carrey to dive head first into the bizarre lunacy of Steve’s world. Olivia Wilde, playing Burt’s assistant as well as giving a womanly perspective on the male dominated world of magicians, is also terrific here as she banters with Carell.

“Burt” has some big laughs but it also doesn’t go far enough at times. The title of Steve’s television show is a funny play on Criss Angel’s Mindfreak, Steve’s “tricks” are at times wincingly shocking, and the lines are often very funny (“You can’t be magical friends with yourself.”) But there is also quite a bit here that doesn’t yield many laughs at all. Burt’s career falling hard enough for him to have to do gigs at a rest home where he meets his hero Rance gives neither Carell or Arkin much to do, Anton introducing magic to a third world country is a too obvious joke, a sex scene begins with clever sleight of hand magic but cuts away way too soon, and Gandolfini’s character constantly forgetting his son’s age is a lousy running gag.

It’s actually quite an amazing feat then that “Burt” winds up winning us over. It’s not always a riot but it offers enough to keep you smiling, every once in a while busting a gut, and leaving the theater relatively satisfied.