Steve Carell as Burt Wonderstone
Steve Buscemi as Anton Marvelton
Olivia Wilde as Jane
Jim Carrey as Steve Gray
James Gandolfini as Doug Munny
Alan Arkin as Rance Holloway
Jay Mohr as Rick the Implausible
Michael Herbig as Lucius Belvedere
Mason Cook as Young Burt
Luke Vanek as Young Anton
Zachary Gordon as Bully
Richard Wolffe as Himself
Erin Burnett as Herself
Brad Garrett as Dom
David Copperfield as Himself
Fiona Hale as Grace
Sonya Eddy as Hanna
Ron Ostrow as Jim the Bartender
Joshua Erenberg as Judah Munny
Gillian Jacobs as Miranda
Directed by Don Scardino
As a kid, Burt Wonderstone (Steve Carell) was constantly picked on until he discovered the wonders of magic. Decades later, he’s a professional magician performing in Las Vegas with his long-time friend and magic partner Anton Marvelton (Steve Buscemi), having hit the big time with a rotating series of assistants. The arrival of street magician Steve Gray (Jim Carrey) shows that magic as popular entertainment is changing, but refusing to change with the times, Burt has a falling out with Anton and their latest assistant Jane (Olivia Wilde) only to hit rock bottom.
At this point, it should be pretty obvious even to the most casual moviegoer that there’s good Steve Carell–essentially when he plays a normal guy in funny situations–and bad Steve Carell, which is when he plays wacky and outlandish characters that yell a lot. As you can easily deduce from the title, “The Incredible Burt Wonderstone” represents the latter. While the slew of ridiculous magic acts that have infiltrated Las Vegas over the years is rife fodder for comedy, there has to be a funnier movie based on that premise then what this one ends up being.
Like in many of Adam Sandler’s comedies–just to give you some idea the level of comedy we’re talking about here–we start with a flashback to Burt Wonderstone’s youth. He’s a lonely kid constantly being picked on until he’s given a magic kit by his absent working mother and has his mind blown by the magic of Rance Holloway (Alan Arkin), which he shares with a similar outcast named Anton. We cut ahead 30 years as Burt and Anton are living their dream by headlining Bally’s Casino in Las Vegas, doing the same act verbatim for many years. But then along comes street magician Steve Grey, Jim Carrey playing a very obvious cross between Criss Angel and David Blaine after raiding Kurt Cobain’s wardrobe. Grey represents everything that’s wrong with magic and how it’s become sensationalized to compete with what one can see for free on YouTube.
Other than wearing garish outfits and having wavy long hair, Burt Wonderstone isn’t a particularly deep or well-rounded character, following the same blueprint as so many Will Ferrell characters – an arrogant, equally womanizing and misogynist ass who isn’t particularly smart or clever. In fact, it’s so easy to see Ferrell in this role, it might make you wonder whether Carell was the filmmakers’ first choice. Even the idea of Carell being reunited with the star of his breakout hit “Bruce Almighty” never really delivers as Jim Carrey’s material basically has his character pulling ridiculous stunts like trying not to pee for days.
The movie coasts along using a boring and predictable character comedy formula that we’ve seen so many times over the years. From the second they meet, you know that Burt and Anton’s friendship will be put to the test, and when they have a falling out, you can probably guess that things will eventually be patched up, just as you can figure out that the whole thing will lead up to a magic duel between Wonderstone and his nemesis Steve Grey.
One can only imagine quality actors like Steve Buscemi (a veteran of Adam Sandler movies) and James Gandolfini were trying to break away from the roles we’ve come to expect from them, but we were more impressed by Alan Arkin–conveniently returning in the third act to help Burt get out of his slump–who clearly has built up enough blackmail photos to convince Warner Bros to hold the release of this movie until after the Oscars.
Even with easy-on-the-eyes Olivia Wilde in a key role as Burt’s beleaguered assistant, it’s still a struggle to find anything worthwhile about the movie, because it just isn’t very funny with more jokes that flat out bomb than any that really deliver on the expected laughs. On top of that, Emmy-winning “30 Rock” director Don Scardino does little to try to make the material funnier, basically letting the actors do their thing. Even the choice of music is fairly stale and stuck in the ’90s, which may be to supplement the humor of Wonderstone being outdated, but instead it just makes the whole movie feel like it was transplanted from an era where bad comedies like this were the norm.
It certainly could have been worse. As we watch a long section of Burt and Anton’s lame magic act based around their friendship, one may worry that they’re going to play up the obvious homophobic angle that they must be more than friends. Fortunately it doesn’t go there, but based on the below-belt humor, you just know it wasn’t due to any desire to be sensitive or politically correct.
The Bottom Line:
Not particularly funny or clever, “The Incredible Burt Wonderstone” often hits the lows of some of the worst Adam Sandler and Will Ferrell character comedies, but at least it’s not as awful as “Evan Almighty,” so that’s something.