'Wonderstone' leaves reviewer wondering

This film image released by Warner Bros. Pictures shows Steve Buscemi, background, and Steve Carell in a scene from, "The Incredible Burt Wonderstone." (AP Photo/Warner Bros. Pictures, Ben Glass)

“The Incredible Burt Wonderstone”


New Line Cinema

1 hour, 40 minutes


Steve Carell and Steve Buscemi as cheesy Vegas magicians feels like a no-brainer. Maybe even a script that would write itself. Unfortunately, overconfidence is rarely a good thing, and the oft-times lazy, frequently dull, and only occasionally funny “Burt Wonderstone” proves that “Incredible” actually requires a little work.

Carell stars as the titular Burt, but the film opens with our hero as a child. A bullied latchkey kid, Burt finds solace in a magic kit he recieved as a birthday present. When he shows his friend Anthony the disappearing handkerchief trick, a lifelong partnership is formed. Flashforward several decades, and Burt Wonderstone and Anton Marvelton are the toast of Vegas, headlining at Bally’s in their own theater.

But, as you might imagine, this kind of thing is hard to maintain forever. When we finally arrive at the present day, Burt is a tanned bully, hectoring the nervous nelly Anton and running off one lovely assistant after another, all of whom he insists on referring to as “Nicole.” The duo’s demise was inevitable, but the situation isn’t helped by the meteoric rise of edgy street magician Steve Grey, Jim Carrey’s clever play on stunt-magician Criss Angel. Grey is the new thing, and before long, Burt and Anton are out on the street, where they will relearn what made them love magic in the first place, find love, and eventually reunite as magical friends.

That last may sound cheesy and made for 11-year-old girls, but that’s a pretty fair synopsis of the last half of the movie.

I really wanted “The Incredible Burt Wonderstone” to be better, and for a long time found myself giving sympathy laughs to obvious jokes before finally realizing that it’s just not all that good. There are some things that work. Jim Carrey’s character, before turning disturbing, is pretty funny, and the satire is spot-on.

This movie suffers from a lack of restraint during the Steve Grey segments, which actually hurts the comedy somewhat, but I appreciated what the filmmakers were going for. Also, there are few funny satirical takes on the whole Vegas self-promotion sub-culture. James Gandalfini, as a guy who names his new hotel after himself — Doug — and then appears dancing and beckoning on the gigantic jumbo-tron signs outside, is very funny.

But there needed to be more of that. More satire, more edge, more, well, funny. Carell is funny no matter what, but often plays it so straight that you feel as though you might have missed the joke. The same can be said for Alan Arkin. Both actors have a few very funny bits, but are mostly shackled. Steve Buscemi is flat-out wasted. All three of those guys can be fall down hilarious, but are only occasionally given the chance to show it. Actress Olivia Munn is certainly affable and I like her character fine, but her romantic angle feels completely shoehorned in and is totally unecessary.

I can’t say I disliked the film. It’s too sincere and soft to really hate. I was just severly disappointed. I didn’t want to see a movie that was mrerely amusing, I wanted to see a movie that lived up to its name. I have the strong feeling that “Burt Wonderstone” is a direct reaction to the string of idiotic party comedies spawned by “The Hangover” several years ago. There’s no nudity, very little swearing, and the kind of innuendo that would make Jay Leno proud. In other words, a movie that is designed to be loved by the masses.

And in typical big studio Hollywood fashion, they forget that the masses actually do enjoy interesting writing. Comedy doesn’t have to be raunchy or offensive to be funny, but it should have an edge, a sharp wit about it. “Burt Wonderstone” tries, but usually fails. The scene from the trailer where Burt and Anton pledge to remain in a plexiglass box for a week is really funny, at first, but when the whole thing devolves into chaos, culminating in Burt, gasp, pulling Anton’s pants down to reveal boxer shorts (ha ha ha!). I suddenly felt like I was watching a rerun of “I Love Lucy.”

If the milquetoast feel of the rest of the production weren’t enough, the rushed third act is completely ridiculous and nigh on impossible. I was flabbergasted that this was their choice for the way to end the picture. Yes, there are funny parts, and yes the actors do a passable job, but the enormous potential that is wasted is almost heartbreaking. The trailer is much funnier than the film. Hell, hearing Steve Buscemi say “and I’m Anton Marvelton!” is funnier than the movie.

I want to see that movie — instead I got to watch “a magical friendship,” where the satire and parody are so mild that they sometimes disappear altogether.

“The Incredible Burt Wonderstone” is rated PG-13 for mile rude humor, mild sexual situations, and mild language.


Chris Jenness is a freelance graphic designer, artist and movie buff who live in Nikiski.