The Incredible Burt Wonderstone

The Incredible Burt Wonderstone photo starrating-3stars.jpgBurt Wonderstone and his partner, Anton Marvelton are headlining magicians at the top of their game. Their Bally’s show in Vegas has become one of the top draws on the strip. Unfortunately, as their fortunes climb, their friendship sours. Further complicating matters is the arrival of a new street performer named Steve Gray (Jim Carrey). As his interpretation of magic grows in popularity, it threatens the future of these two fixtures on the Las Vegas strip.

For anyone who grew up watching Doug Henning (remember him?) and later David Copperfield, this is a valentine to the classic illusionists who achieved their feats of wonder on television specials during the 70s. There is a genuine love for the time-honored magicians of yesteryear. Steve Carell and Steve Buscemi have all the flamboyant charisma of Siegfried & Roy, but in a strictly platonic version. Their early years as children are memorable. They’ve been best friends since they were kids. Anton is a particularly sickly little boy who takes a variety of medication including testosterone because he’s ‘dangerously close to being a girl.’ Outcasts at school, they bond against bullies over their shared mutual passion for magic. Burt and Anton are really likable as kids. In many ways, I wish these scenes went on longer because they’re very amusing.

The narrative alternates between involving and routine. The story drags in the middle, but it’s saved by an impressive supporting performance that invigorates the film. As Steve Carell gets older and his reputation grows, he exhibits progressively temperamental behavior. He makes petty complaints, treats his friend like a servant, and expects the women he chooses from the audience to sleep with him. It’s meant to be a caricature obviously, but the character becomes a bit insufferable. Things change however with the introduction of a street magician played by Jim Carrey. His parody is clearly inspired by talents like David Blaine and Criss Angel. As the stringy haired, t-shirt wearing Steve Gray, he comes across as more of a lunatic than a sane performer. His brand of magic emphasizes masochistic stunts involving pain. They keep getting increasingly ridiculous. I mean he describes himself as a brain-rapist. Carrey is absolutely fearless and it’s his funniest portrayal in years.

The Incredible Burt Wonderstone is a mixed bag. What originates as a sweet ode to magicians of yore, falls apart in the center before regaining momentum for a surprisingly hilarious finish. There’s such a difference between the razzle dazzle excess of the 70’s with the low key street performers that started in the late 90s. When the script exploits that, it’s quite entertaining. “The Incredible Burt and Anton” act is a cheesy delight.  They open every show with the same musical intro: Steve Miller Band’s ‘Abracadabra’.  Carell sports a wild mane of hair.  They wear spangly costumes. They’re influenced by Rance Holloway, an aging legend played in a nice turn by Alan Arkin. They all embody the old guard.  Contrast that with bizarro torture tricks of street magician Steve Gray. His hard to watch stunts are so disgusting it becomes a biting critique. When he’s on screen, the comedy zings. When it focuses on Steve Carrel’s fall from favor, it gets boring. Still there are some very funny moments in this send-up of modern magic. And those final minutes where we witness the reveal of a major trick, is worth the price of admission alone.

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28 Responses to “The Incredible Burt Wonderstone”

  1. Interesting – never heard of this. Looks like it could be fun. 🙂

  2. I’ll be waiting till DVD, did not do well at box office. Good review 😀

  3. Nice review, I think you have more of a background knowledge of the kind of magic they lampoon here so I completely get that you connected more with that part of the movie than I did. This definitely isn’t one to write home about, but I didn’t regret spending the money on a ticket to see it so compared to the rest of the crap out there right now that’s quite the achievement, lol

  4. martin250 Says:

    great review Mark. also saw this recently, and liked it just as much.
    i too wished that Burt and Antons younger years went on longer-the jump in era came too soon,i thought.

    the narrative is routine but Jim Carrey really puts on a show here. i would rank his performance as his third best in terms of being outrageous: Ace Ventura, Liar, Liar, then this one.

    But this film is just like you said, a mixed bag.

    • Yup, I agree One Jim Carrey’s funniest performances ever. I liked his work in Dumb and Dumber more, but this is top 5 for sure. Not the movie, just his portrayal.

  5. Great review here. Carrey might have honestly saved the film. And thanks for including the fact that he went around all movie being called the “Brain Rapist.” Utterly ridiculous, but vintage Jim Carrey.

    • Honestly, I haven’t laughed this hard at a Jim Carrey performance since Me, Myself and Irene. This was return to form. It’s nice to have him back.

  6. I have zero interest in seeing this and you’ve confirmed my dread. It just looks awful, well it’s a flop at the box office too. It seems that people prefered to see the other magician named Oz, ahah.

    • Yeah I’ve given up trying to understand why one movie is a success at the box office and another flops. This isn’t awful. Identity Thief was worse and that was a huge hit.

  7. Nice review. The film is a nice ode to old school magic and it seems like our takes are very similar like you said in your comment on my review. As you mention, Steve Carell’s character becomes insufferable and the story drags in the middle, but all is saved by the supporting performances. I thought their final big trick was hilarious, although I felt it was a bit anticlimactic. I was expecting something cooler.

  8. I agree for the most part Mark. I actually got a lot of laughs out of Carell’s Wonderstone when he was being a raging ass at the beginning of the movie, that was one of my favorite parts.

    But there’s no doubt the movie is at its best when it has old school magic squaring off against these new “stunt” magicians. I’d like to see something like that for real!

    • Steve Carell’s pompous ass routine made him an unlikable protagonist. But I was more on his side regarding his style of magic. I was torn. A mixed bag to be sure.

  9. I was afraid of checking this one out. Looked too…well…”forced” is the word that comes to mind.

    I’m not sure I’ll be checking this one out. Thanks for the good review, Mark.

  10. Great review! It’s nice to see Carrey back in films, I haven’t seen him around recently.

  11. Nice review Mark, I think I can safely wait to catch this one when it is streaming.

  12. This was a pretty fun movie. I laughed out loud a lot. Somehow, It wasn’t great. The middle of the movie was a little boring. The beginning and the end were fantastic. The ending scenes during the credits were absolutely hilarious. 3 stars.

  13. I’m curious about this one. Kind of wondering why it wasn’t given a direct DVD release though…just seems like a “direct-to-DVD” release for some reason. Glad I’m seeing someone enjoyed it. 🙂

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