The world of Las Vegas magicians is ripe for parody but ‘The Incredible Burt Wonderstone’ feels like a joke that has been waiting to be told since the 1980s and they’ve mangled the punch line in 2013.
Burt Wonderstone (Steve Carrell) and Anton Marvelton (Steve Buscemi) are two famous magicians known for their Las Vegas show, but their career and friendship comes under threat with the arrival of a new street magician Steve Gray (Jim Carrey).
Clearly inspired by the bare chests, fake tans and giant hair of the real life magic acts of Siegfried and Roy and the eyebrow gymnastics of David Copperfield (who has a cameo), ‘The Incredible Burt Wonderstone’ tries to have a little bit of fun indulging the cheesy excess of of superstar magicians. The bad one-liners, the melodrama of each trick’s set up and the blonde sexed up assistants are all on show for a gag or two. The problem with most of the film’s set up is that it’s reliant on our memories of the showmen of the past and instantly the film feels outdated and it’s like getting a visit from the ghost of jokes past.
Wonderstone is the magic equivalent of Ben Stiller’s Derek Zoolander or Will Ferrell’s Ron Burgandy but Carrell never takes full ownership of the character with his comedic talents. Carrell looks like he’s imprisoned underneath tonnes of hair and makeup and held hostage by the horrible comedic doodling of screenwriters Johnathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley. The plot is all scraps from a bad ‘Saturday Night Live’ character film with the inevitable fall from grace and the climb back to the top with an unbelievable love interest thrown into the mix in the form of an assistant/magician played by Olivia Wilde; whose career choices have begun reflect her namesake. Playing a Yoda type for magicians, not even the presence of the always great Alan Arkin can prevent ‘The Incredible Burt Wonderstone’ from disappearing into a puff of mediocrity. When the main conceit of the film involves a magic trick that requires the mass drugging of an audience it’s worth asking what the screenwriters and director Don Scardino were smoking when they thought it up.
For all its miscalculations Carrey steals the show and provides almost all of the film’s few highlights. His character is a fantastic satire of the Criss Angel and David Blaine style of magic mashed with a little ‘Jackass’ behaviour. He’s everything that’s wrong with what’s popular in modern entertainment where shock value and self-harm is rated higher than skill and showmanship.
If the title of the film actually reflected the content it would not be called ‘The Incredible Burt Wonderstone’ but rather ‘The Burt’.
The Popcorn Junkie