‘The Incredible Burt Wonderstone” starts off with a recipe for grade-A comedy. The cast includes names such as Steve Carell, Steve Buscemi, Alan Arkin, James Gandolfini and Jim Carrey. The director is Don Scardino of “30 Rock,” while Jonathan M. Goldstein and John Francis of “Horrible Bosses” penned the screenplay. The premise regarding rivaling magicians offers endless comedic possibilities. So how is it that the final product is just mediocre? It’s probably because the audience has to be constantly caught off guard in order for a magic show or comedy to succeed. In “The Incredible Burt Wonderstone,” the audience can pretty much predict everything that’s going to happen. This subtracts the elements of surprise and humor from the equation.
Carell is Burt Wonderstone and Buscemi is Anton Marvelton, two life-long best friends with a mutual love for magic. Sporting flamboyant hairdos and costumes that would make Siegfried and Roy laugh, Burt and Anton become renowned illusionists with a hit show in Vegas. After 10 years of doing the same old shtick though, people begin to tire of the magic duo. They’re more drawn to the antics of Carrey’s Steve Gray, a street-magician who’s like a cross between Criss Angel and David Blaine. Of course Gray doesn’t really perform magic tricks so much as he seriously injures himself with knives, hot coal, and drills. Regardless, Burt and Anton are now officially old news.
One of the many falters with “The Incredible Burt Wonderstone” is that Wonderstone himself isn’t that funny. We’ve seen this buffoon in numerous other comedies like “Anchorman” and “Talladega Nights.” He’s an egotistical showboater who thinks he’s the center of the universe. After losing everything, however, will Wonderstone learn that he’s not king of the world and that other people matter, too? All signs point to yes. As hard as Carell tries, he just can’t bring anything new to this worn-out character.
There’s also a pretty dull love interest in Olivia Wilde’s straight-faced Jane, who reluctantly supplies Wonderstone with moral support. The only other notable woman in the cast is Gillian Jacobs as a floozy who has a one-night stand with Wonderstone. So once again we have a comedy where all the female characters are either limited to being emotional support or bimbos. Could it be that male screenwriters simply don’t know how to write for the opposite sex?
The only cast member that gets much out of his role is Carrey, who has a couple shockingly amusing scenes. The reason Carrey sticks out is because his character is so unpredictable and leaves the audience on edge. By comparison, Burt Wonderstone is a royal bore. None of Wonderstone’s illusions are especially inspired or funny. Even when one of his tricks backfires, it feels like the filmmakers could have taken matters to a more extreme level. If you want to see a truly funny magician, observe Will Arnett’s character on “Arrested Development.” Heck, you’re inclined to get more laughs watching the Joker perform his infamous pencil magic trick in “The Dark Knight.”
• Ahwatukee native and Desert Vista graduate Nick Spake is a student at Arizona State University. He has been working as a film critic for five years, reviewing movies on his website, NICKPICKSFLICKS.com. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.