Magicians are fun. As Alan Arkin’s Rance Holloway tells us, audiences love to have a sense of awe and see the impossible. There’s a reason magician films have worked in the past (most recently with The Prestige and The Illusionist). We want to be fooled. We want to be amazed. The Incredible Burt Wonderstone is a film where there’s a match made in cinematic heaven: magic and comedy. As much fun as it is to be awed, it’s even better to be laughing, too.
Burt Wonderstone (Steve Carrell) and Anton Marvelton (Steve Buscemi) are a famous magician duo who have been a popular act on the Las Vegas strip for over a decade. They met when they were kids, when Burt was beat up all the time and Anton was a medicated kid whose testosterone deficiencies put him “dangerously close to being a girl.” But now, Burt has lost the joy in what he does. Everything has become boring, with his focus being more on the girls and the money. But when street magician Steve Gray (Jim Carrey) pops onto the scene and begins to wow audiences using painful gimmicks rather than old-school magic, the duo falls apart due to Burt’s horrendous ego and lack of passion. With nothing left of his former glory, it’s up to Burt to rekindle his own sense of wonder in the craft and return for a massive comeback with the help of ex-assistant Jane (Olivia Wilde) and legendary magician Rance Holloway (Alan Arkin).
The Incredible Burt Wonderstone is a well-crafted, creative, and entertaining form of comedy. It doesn’t devolve into crotch hits or inane randomness. There’s a method to the madness, and that method has a panache and showmanship that I wholly enjoyed. That’s the key to the film – showmanship.
There are plenty of moments where we may only just be watching the film show us magic acts – yet the acts are all fantastic. There’s a nostalgia element that goes along with those scenes, especially in the truly marvelous moments where we see something that reminds us of a childhood where magic was amazing. Something as simple as a disappearing handkerchief or as complicated as a bird popping out of a salt shaker. Even in cinema, we can still be amazed.
I love how authentically funny this film actually is. Rarely do modern comedies come out and pull off such a high ratio of their jokes. Typically, comedy film jokes are more cringe-worthy than anything else in just how desperate or mean they end up being. This isn’t one of those movies. Here, we get some real pitch-perfect laughs that actually went the extra creative mile to be funny rather than go for the easy Sandler-esque laugh. We have Emmy-winning Don Scardino (from 30 Rock) as director to thank for that – the man knows funny. The same can be said for the writers Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley, the brains behind the imaginative and funny Horrible Bosses.
Jim Carrey utterly steals the show as the film’s Criss Angel-esque villain. Carrey is an absolute riot, nailing that aura of hilarity he’s well-known for and delivering his genuinely funniest performance in years. Considering this and his upcoming role as gruff Colonel Stars and Stripes in Kick-Ass 2, we might be seeing a return to the Carrey we haven’t seen since the 90’s. The character’s scenes are the best the movie has to offer, lampooning the ludicrously extreme tricks that magicians like Criss Angel and David Blaine are well-known for (from not blinking for 3 days to not urinating for 12 days – where “he should be dead, as he’s got more pee than blood”). Carrey’s work is worth the price of admission alone.
Steve Carrell provides some good work here, but never becomes as likable as he needs to be because of just how much of an ass he is for half the film. If there is a fault in the film, it’s that it goes overboard with making us dislike Burt Wonderstone – enough so that, when we see him at the bottom, there’s really not enough sympathy to keep us rooting for him. Thankfully, Buscemi’s and Carrey’s characters keep things likable – with Buscemi’s Anton being likable enough for the whole lot.
The Incredible Burt Wonderstone is a pure enjoyment, even with its lack of a likable hero. The acts are great, the movie moves quickly, and it never hits any cringe-worthy bad moments. There’s an odd universal comedy here that harkens to vaudeville, a classic touch that’s impossible to predict. It’s half satire, half celebration of the simple beauty of magic and how our culture has turned into meaningless spectacle. It takes a great subject and some very quirky characters and molds them all into the type of comedy I like the most. This is a fun time definitely worth having, especially if you love magic and want to see old-school Jim Carrey being awesome.
In Theaters: March 15, 2013
Runtime: 101 min
Rating: PG-13 (for sexual content, dangerous stunts, a drug-related incident and language)
Director: Don Scardino
Cast: Steve Carell, Steve Buscemi, Olivia Wilde, Alan Arkin, James Gandolfini, Jim Carrey, Jay Mohr, Michael Bully Herbig
Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures, New Line Cinema
Official Site: http://www.theincredibleburtwonderstone.com
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