THE INCREDIBLE BURT WONDERSTONE isn’t trying to reinvent the wheel when it comes to redemption comedies. Like a number of films that have come before it, Don Scardino’s picture stays pretty true to the formula of a legendary performer who has lost the joy in their work and must gain it back upon hitting rock bottom in order to once again taste success and find happiness. But what BURT WONDERSTONE really has going for it is the trio of Steve Carell, Jim Carrey and Alan Arkin engaged in a bit of one-upmanship, seemingly trying to steal the show from one another each time they set foot on the screen. And guess what? We get to reap the benefits of it with this feel-good-style comedy that delivers more than its fair share of big laughs.
Bullied with no friends and a working mom who can’t even be bothered to bake her own kid’s Pillsbury birthday cake, a young adolescent receives a gift on his special day that will forever change the course of his life. He receives a Rance Holloway magic kit, and, upon popping in the old-school VHS tape, learns that everyone loves a magician; hence, learn magic, and people will start loving you, too. That boy would grow up to be the titular Burt Wonderstone (played by Steve Carell - flowing mane, spray tan and all), and together with the one childhood friend who took to his magic enough later to become his partner, Anton Marvelton (Steve Buscemi), the duo became one of the biggest acts in Vegas over a 10-year run at Bally’s, which led to lots of money, lots of women and a place in magic history as legends. However, when you’re running the same tricks night after night, year after year, still coming on-stage to Steve Miller Band’s “Abracadabra” after all this time, your audience is going to begin to decline. That’s what happens when they’ve seen it all... and you’re forced to either adapt or die.
Wonderstone seems content on making a spectacular fall from grace, having had his life become rather boring over the years. Even sex with groupies seems rather routine by this point as he introduces legal documents and offers up the same lame gift to everyone he sleeps with, almost as if he’s doing it because that’s what he’s always done, not necessarily because he wants to. When getting the biggest bed in Vegas is the only thing that can excite you, it might be time for a change.
Unfortunately for Wonderstone, there’s a storm brewing in the realm of magic, with a street magician named Steve Grey gaining popularity with his emergence. Part-David Blaine, part-Criss Angel, Grey (played brilliantly by Carrey) is prepared to grab the industry by the throat with his train wreck form of magic that capitalizes on the public’s thirst to see something that’s disturbing and unnerving and gross. What else would you expect from a guy whose television program is entitled BRAIN RAPIST? This is a different sort of Carrey that may harness his comic sensibilities, but is really unlike any roles he’s taken. Grey is dark and twisted, and Carrey makes him such a viable villain to Carell’s douchey yet more traditional Wonderstone. However, he’s fascinating to watch, particularly when he’s about to unveil a new trick from his arsenal, as you know you’re about to see something so preposterous that it is sure to make you laugh just at its mere existence. When you see it carried out to completion, the laughter just keeps on coming. I’m looking at you, Human Piñata.
When Wonderstone and Marvelton try to compete by updating their own brand of magic to this spectacle standard, it leaves Anton with shattered ankles, the pair with a shattered friendship and Burt with a shattered career. It’s at this low point that he must recognize what a pompous ass he’s been, and, in order to get back to the top he embraced for so long, he’ll need to figure out how to get the joy and passion back into someone he once loved so dearly. Alan Arkin as the aforementioned Rance Holloway, after initial resistance, will be more than happy to help, bringing his blunt honesty to this new world of magic.
THE INCREDIBLE BURT WONDERSTONE is pretty standard fare that is elevated by the performances of its impressive cast. Even Olivia Wilde as the last of a run of Wonderstone’s assistants named Nicole injects some heart into the story. But the brunt of any enjoyment to be garnered from WONDERSTONE lies in its gags, and writers John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein deliver a string of hilarious moments throughout the film, more than enough to make this one worth watching. THE INCREDIBLE BURT WONDERSTONE pulls plenty of laughs from its hat, making the fact that the film is quite enjoyable no illusion.
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