Everybody knows that magic only works when there is a sense of awe and wonderment, mixed with the element of surprise. With The Incredible Burt Wonderstone – a comedy opening this weekend that reunites Jim Carrey and Steve Carell (who both appeared in 2003’s Bruce Almighty) – it’s a surprise all right. Surprisingly unfunny.
And what a shame. Steve Carell and Jim Carrey are heavyweights and the premise of Burt Wonderstone seems like one rich for comedy. Carell plays the title role, a Vegas magician who is seeing his audience dissipate after a new magician (Jim Carrey) with a new brand of magic hits the town. Wonderstone’s tired “Magical Friendship” act, alongside his childhood friend and partner, Anton Marvelton (Steve Buscemi), has grown stale and outdated and is in desperate need of some retooling.
Their act may have been based on this script: A tired, stilted framework that offers neither comedian room to be funny. Great comedies develop a rhythm of sorts and the first ten minutes or so of this film offered not one laugh, nor a peep from the audience I was with at the screening.
We are given a back-story of how young Burt was bullied and ridiculed at school (with hints of bad parenting to boot) and how a child’s magic kit inspired him on his eventual career path. In this kit, he sees a tape of the magician Rance Holloway (Alan Arkin) and he recruits his feminine loser pal Anton to be his assistant.
But when we catch up with Burt in current times, he doesn’t seem to be the same person. Instead, he is an arrogant, flamboyant elitist, a man who looks like Barry Manilow and acts like Anchorman‘s Ron Bergundy. Unlike Will Ferrell though, Carell is not effective at playing pompous. The script also gives him little material to work with.
Jim Carrey is a very talented comedian who just so happens to have not been in a very funny movie in quite some time. His character is the film’s most interesting, a modern magician who is more into self-mutilation and spirituality than pure “magic.” Sadly, he is not in the film nearly as much as advertised. When he finally shares a few scenes with Carell late in the film, he seems too tired or too restrained to offer us anything worthwhile.
Following the conventions of the outdated, out-of-touch, fallen-from-grace hero storyline, Burt goes from riches to rags back to riches. There is always a female love interest in movies like this – in this case the mesmerizing Olivia Wilde – who falls for our protagonist even though there is no good reason to.
What struck me as odd about this film was how likeable most of the characters were. Clearly there was talent here, from Carrey and Carell, to Arkin, Buscemi, Wilde and even James Gandolfini as the money-hungry hotel mogul. They all had interesting characters but were given nothing to do. How this went wrong is beyond me, but there is nothing more offensive than an unfunny comedy.
What I also found odd, was that most of the “magic” in the film was not “actual” magic, but instead were camera tricks. With today’s special effects, you can make anything happen, but this film may have been much more magical had it given the proper respect for the art form in which it was tackling and shown “real” magic. Case in point, was the final magic trick of the film, the “audience disappearing trick,” which could have been debunked by any audience member wearing a watch.
When the film ended by showing us how the magicians pulled off their finale trick, the filmmakers showed us how little they understand about what makes magic – or comedy – work…if you have to explain a joke, or a trick, it is no longer interesting.
And at the end of the day, it becomes tiring to watch people attempt to make you laugh for nearly two hours. The Incredible Burt Wonderstone: A film about magic that hasn’t the first clue about what it takes to create something truly magical. Its a series of failed parlor tricks suitable for kids parties, but it has no business playing the big rooms.
Run Time: 1 hour, 40 minutes, Rated PG-13
Starring: Steve Carell, Steve Buscemi, Olivia Wilde, Jim Carrey, James Gandolfini, Alan Arkin, Jay Mohr
Directed by Don Scardino (Me and Veronica, Advice from a Caterpillar)
Opens locally on Friday, March 15, 2013 (check for show times).
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How to read Tom Santilli’s “Star Ratings:”
- 5 Stars: Exceptional, must-see movie
- 4 Stars: Very good movie, not without flaws
- 3 Stars: The movie was just OK, leaves a lot to be desired
- 2 Stars: Pretty bad, a let-down, disappointing, but with some redeeming qualities
- 1 Star: Awful, sloppy, a total waste of time