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Movie Review: 'The Incredible Burt Wonderstone'

The Incredible Burt Wonderstone

Starring: Steve Carrell, Steve Buscemi, Jim Carrey

Directed by Don Scardino
Rated PG-13


What the first word that pops into your head when you think of Vegas?  Gaudy?  Excess?  Dream crusher?  Has-Been?  Douchebag?   All of these words will work.  And when one sets out to make a movie about magicians in Vegas, one might assume that all those words above might come into play when creating your story right?  And when making a movie about Vegas and the magicians that inhabit the dessert play land, one cannot hold back either when displaying everything people love and hate about Vegas.  The Incredible Burt Wonderstone, a movie about magicians in Vegas, doesn’t fail completely, but it also ends up being a wishy washy tale that would’ve been better suited with an R rating, a willingness to go over the top…and with a director that isn’t mostly known for doing TV work.

The Incredible Burt Wonderstone, oh how I wanted to like you.  I really, really wanted to like you.  I don’t hate you, but if it weren’t for this review, I’d forgotten about you already.  You’re a movie that, when you show up on TNT in a couple of years,  I’ll try to remember if I saw you or not, remember I did, watch you for 15 to 20 minutes before I find that Wayne’s World is one and I’ll watch that instead…even though I’ve seen about 50 times.   You’re also just another example of how forgettable 2013 has been for movies.  And sadly, it may get worse before it gets better…just like Burt Wonderstone.

Wonderstone begins in earnest as a young Burt, picked on by the kids at school, left a home by a mom who has to work all the time, but finds solace in a birthday present: a Rance Holloway magician’s kit.   While doing a magic trick at school, but is befriended by Anton Marvelton (both boys have different names obviously but for the life of me I can’t remember them), who instantly shares in Burt’s love of magic.  Cut to the present and both Burt (Steve Carrell) and Anton (Steve Buscemi) are successful magicians headlining a show at Bally’s Casino.  But with their act getting stale and the people’s attention going towards street magician Steve Gray (Jim Carrey), Anton and Burt decide to pull off a stunt called the Hot Box.  But the stunt goes badly, leaving Burt and Anton, their friendship already frayed, now completely broken, and without a gig at Bally’s. 

Now keep in mind this is supposed to be a comedy.  But laughs are hard to come by and even more so as the story moves along.  Burt, now homeless, despite attempts to stay with he and Anton’s magicians assistant Jane (Olvia Wilde) takes up working at a retirement home where he meets his childhood idol Rance Holloway (Alan Arkin).   The two strike up a friendship and together, with the help of Jane and Anton, decide to show the world that street magicians like Steve Gray are no match for the showmanship and creativity that magicians can posses and to win a prime gig at a new hotel run by Doug Munny (James Gandolfini)

Let’s go back to the question I asked at the beginning of this article; the things that The Incredible Burt Wonderstone lack to make it a really good comedy.  The movie can never decide if it wants to be edgy or a family comedy (Oz the Great and Powerful suffered from the same thing).  You have characters that are douchebags, so make them douchebags, go full tilt on this.  Carrell’s Wonderstone can’t decide if he wants to be the Michael Scott or just a complete asshole, completely engulfed in the Vegas lifestyle, who nobody likes. Carrey as Gray is just there likes he’s waiting for some sort of direction on where to take his character.  And since that isn’t happening, Carrey tries to go at it unhinged but then never ramps it up to 10.  In the end he just he’s reduced to a guy who’s doing a Jim Carrey impersonation.   Anton and Doug Munny aren’t even developed enough to make an impact on the movie (and this is really apparent with Burt and Anton’s relationship).   And Jane, sadly, she’s reduced to just being the love interest, the girl in the movie who always smiles when Burt is around.

The movie looks flat too, like it was made for TV.  That’s all on director Don Scardino, who doesn’t use the Vegas extravagance to his advantage.  It’s a shame really, with this cast and idea, this movie should’ve been a no-brainer.  The entire cast was game to make this movie something really offbeat and awesome but the script and direction played the biggest trick of the movie…pretending to be something that it’s not:  a comedy. 

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