It’s impossible to disregard the impressive smoke and mirrors as demonstrated by the inexhaustible talents of “The Incredible Burt Wonderstone,” although the same can’t be said for the weak script and hollow laughs. The film begins by introducing us to Burt Wonderstone (Steve Carell) and Anton Marvelton (Steve Buscemi), superstar magicians who have reigned supreme in Las Vegas for many years. The duo’s overwhelming commercial success, however, doesn’t match their friendship, which has taken a turn for the worst due to Burt’s overgrown ego. After Burt injures Anton during a performance, they sever ties. Anton embarks for the Far East, and if losing a friend isn’t enough, Burt finds himself facing off against guerrilla street magician Steve Gray (Jim Carrey), whose outrageous feats and growing cult following threaten to render old school illusions obsolete.
Out of a job and out of friends, Burt encounters Rance Holloway (Alan Arkin), the man who inspired him to become a magician. Burt sees a chance to save his act and rekindle his friendship with Anton, but the only way he can accomplish those goals is by rediscovering what compelled him to learn magic when he was a child.
Any fan of magicians is in for a show. As someone who isn’t a diehard admirer but still enjoys watching the occasional performance, I couldn’t take my eyes off the magic tricks performed by many of the cast members. On the one hand, we have Carell and Buscemi executing stage acts that range from the simplistic to the complex. There are also a couple small but lively illusions performed by Arkin, who at times is more of a magician maestro than his co-stars.
On the other hand, there’s Carrey providing us a street-oriented approach to magic tricks, often resorting to extreme daring that demands the viewers’ attention. Whether it revolves around shooting fireballs out of his mouth or sleeping on a bed of hot coals or burning the words “Happy birthday” into his forearm, you can’t deny the effectiveness of Carrey’s charisma.
But even a convincing illusion cannot disguise a flimsy script. Burt and Anton’s friendship has a solid start during their childhood, but when they reach adulthood, the camera devotes more of its time to the magic tricks instead of their relationship. Seeing 30 years of friendship get poured down the drain due to Burt’s ego was an interesting turn of events that should have received more development than what was observed in the film.
In addition, the dynamic between Burt and his assistant Jane (Olivia Wilde) comes off as forced. One moment she is the only woman in Burt’s life with a mind of her own, and in another, she’s more than willing to succumb to his Don Juan eccentricities. And while Steve Gray’s exploits are a sight you wouldn’t want to miss, there isn’t really a storyline of his for us to follow.
I also think the film’s comedy element fails to reach its true potential; there are few moments in which the humor feels funny. Carell’s one-liners are as stiff as cardboard; Buscemi doesn’t get many opportunities to express his own witty side. In contrast, Carrey and Arkin are having the times of their lives; they’re the only ones here who know how to get in touch with comedy.
Steve Carell and Steve Buscemi make a good magician team, but their effectiveness as a comedy duo is questionable, to say the least. Olivia Wilde is merely eye candy. James Gandolfini is —well, himself running a prestigious Las Vegas casino.
You can expect “The Incredible Burt Wonderstone” to excite those interested in an entertaining magic trick extravaganza. As for everybody else, the lack of a solid story and catchy jokes might be enough reason to convince you to wait to rent.
MPAA rating: PG-13 for sexual content, dangerous stunts, a drug-related incident and language.
Running time: 1 hour 40 minutes
Playing: General release