It may be PG-13 and the trailers might not inspire you to go see it, but I'll be damned if THE INCREDIBLE BURT WONDERSTONE, set in the Vegas magic act scene, isn't remarkably funny in most places. Much of this is thanks to going-for-broke performances by Steve Carell and Jim Carrey, who seems to have rediscovered the physical comedy that put him on the map, while still creating a real character with dark secrets and an even darker ability to come up and go through with nasty, often self-mutilating stunts. Carrey gives the movie an edge it simply wouldn't be capable of with him.
Burt Wonderstone is about a young boy who discovers his love of magic by getting a magic set said to be put out by his favorite television magician, Rance Holloway (Alan Arkin). The kid becomes pretty good with the tricks in the box and even manages to find an even dorkier friend to become his partner in illusions. The two grow up to become Burt Wonderstone (Carell) and Anton Marvelton (Steve Buscemi), would-class magicians with a top-billing, sold-out act on the Vegas strip. The only thing more awesome than their act is Burt's ego and the creepy way he seduces women (complete with a souvenir, after-sex photo). Burt manages to chase away on-stage assistants (who all seem to be named Nicole) at an alarming rate, so he grabs one of the show's backstage techs, Jane (Olivia Wilde), to be the new assistant (still calling her Nicole).
But as the years go on, the ticket sales dwindle, due in large part to freakier magicians like Steve Gray (Carrey), who are more like stuntmen with makeup and dyed hair (think David Blaine mixed with Chris Angel). Gray doesn't walk on hot coals; he takes naps on them. He pounds nails in with his forehead. He's a mess, but his gonzo street magic show "Mind Rapist" is very popular, and he's pulling magic fans away from Burt and Anton, which causes friction between the two and their aging act. Things get so bad, that hotel owner Doug (James Gandolfini) threatens to bump them if they don't get edgy fast, and after a failed stunt, the partners break up.
There's a mid-section to BURT WONDERSTONE that drags a bit. Burt is forced to perform at old-age homes and kids birthday parties, while Anton takes magic to starving children in third-world countries (turns out they'd rather have food and clean water; who knew?). But when the team reunites in hopes of getting their old job back, the film picks up again, thanks in large part to Arkin coming back into the film to help the boys come up with a new closing trick. Veteran television director Don Scardino (including nearly 40 episodes of "30 Rock") keeps things moving, and while some sections and performances work better than others, nothing gets embarrassingly bad. Even when you aren't laughing out loud, you'll probably still be grinning like an idiot.
I'm always shocked and impressed when Buscemi is willing to take a supporting role like this (no one in the film misses the chance to basically call Anton ugly), but he's so good at underplaying the part that he actually makes it even funnier. He's not telling jokes like Carrel and Carrey; Buscemi is just great at great line delivery and expressions that make us laugh. Wilde is good here too as something more than just a pretty face. It turns out Jane has always wanted to be a magician as well, and works hard with Burt at developing her talent. She comes across as much stronger than you might think.
Just as all I ask of horror films is to scare me and maybe add something original to the genre, so do I want silly comedies to be silly in innovative ways and make me laugh. THE INCREDIBLE BURT WONDERSTONE accomplishes both is fairly substantial doses, and that surprised and delighted me. It's certainly better than that guttersnipe IDENTITY THIEF that you people won't stop throwing your money at.