Monday, March 18, 2013
The Incredible Burt Wonderstone
The Incredible Burt Wonderstone (2013)
Dir. Don Scardino
2 out of 5
For established entertainers, risk is often a scary thing. Once that meal ticket is punched, it's difficult to muster the courage and willpower to take on new challenges. So it's hard to tell at first if The Incredible Burt Wonderstone is simply being faithful to its theme of professional ennui, or if it really is nothing more than a rote comedy vehicle designed around its stars' re-heated shtick. Here I might say "spoiler alert," but in truth the film tips its hand from the moment we first see the silly wigs and flamboyant stage costumes.
The titular Burt Wonderstone (Steve Carrell) is an imperious illusionist headlining a long-running Las Vegas magic show with his partner and childhood friend, the perpetually optimistic Anton Marvelton (Steve Buscemi). However, interest is waning in their old-school act, and their fractious relationship isn't helped by the increasing popularity of brash street magician Steve Gray (Jim Carrey). When the duo's attempt to seize on the audience-grabbing potential of Gray's publicity stunts goes awry, it finally splits them apart and sends Burt spiraling into an intermittently funny mid-career crisis.
Horrible Bosses scribes Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley (the actor of Freaks & Geeks and Bones fame) take a step back with their sophomore effort, which tries to cram in as many different types of gags as possible to disorienting effect. Essentially, Burt Wonderstone is three movies in one - none of them remarkable. There's the feckless overconfidence of Carell, whose fussiness encounters new obstacles from living in a fleabag motel to performing magical sales pitches in the aisles of a grocery store. There's the unrestrained slapstick of Carrey, employed here in a fashion that only reminds the audience of how obnoxious his nonstop mugging can be. And then there's the acerbic old-fogey wisdom of Alan Arkin as Burt's childhood idol, a legendary magician living out his twilight years in a nursing home for Vegas showbiz types.
Burt Wonderstone manages to get in a few choice digs, particularly in the gauche vanity of James Gandolfini's casino tycoon, Doug Munny - whose new signature resort is named simply "Doug" - and the ridiculous antics of Carrey's David Blaine/Criss Angel hybrid that parodies their attempts to pass off extreme bodily abuse as "magic." The movie largely lacks bite, however, and focuses on a comfortably broad definition of humor designed to please as many people as possible. This is frequently an issue, such as when the film's assertion that magic is an inspiring spectacle with a special appeal for children commingles with jokes about narcotics and slight-of-hand-assisted sexytime between Burt and stagehand/aspiring magician Jane (Olivia Wilde), his tacked-on love interest. Though it tries to use the insular world of magic to create crackling comedy, The Incredible Burt Wonderstone casts too wide a net and disappointingly sticks with the same old tricks we've seen a thousand times before.