Directed by: Don Scardino
Starring: Steve Carell, Steve Buscemi, Jim Carrey
When a film hits the cinemas and it boasts a cast of Steve Carell, Steve Buscemi, Jim Carrey, Alan Arkin, Olivia Wilde, and James Gandolfini, in addition to it being a comedy about magic, you would be forgiven for thinking that this was going to be a sure fire hit. Sadly The Incredible Burt Wonderstone is the most generic and least funny film for all cast members combined.
It begins with Burt Wonderstone as a child. He’s bullied by the local kids on his birthday and then heads home to find his mother working the double shift and a pack of cake mix on the side. He also has present, which he opens to find a Rance Holloway magic set. This set changes Burt’s life and the next day in school his first trick comes to the attention of Anton, another kid who the bullies like to target. The two of them become best friends and magic partner for life. The next time we see them is ten years later and they’re crashing through a banner with their names on in front of hundreds of people at the most prestigious hotel in Las Vegas. They sell their show on being ‘magical friends’ and perform tricks that highlight their friendship. Off stage however this ‘so-called’ friendship is crumbling and fast – turns out these two are true performers. Wonderstone has become an arrogant chauvinist, where as Anton is fed up of living in the shadow.
Enter a new magician called Steve Grey, only this guy isn’t really a magician but more a self-harmer for the want of entertainment, think David Blaine. Burt argues that this guy isn’t performing magic but the public don’t care and pretty soon Burt and Anton’s repetitive show is being forgotten whilst Steve Grey’s stunts are garnering full attention. Burt and Anton have to think of a daring stunt to gain back their fans.
Whilst magic as a comedy is quite fresh and contemporary at the moment, the generic comedy formula is not. The character arcs that Burt and Anton are destined to take are apparent from the start, which makes the film entirely predictable and therefore disappointing.
The saving grace is Jim Carrey, whose character is by far the most interesting and the one you want to see on screen. The stunts that the character Steve Grey performs are certainly an in-joke to members of the magic community. This guy doesn’t walk on hot coals, he sleeps on them, and he doesn’t use a hammer to knock in nails, no this guy uses his head. The stunts are absolutely ridiculous but they’re the most interesting feature of the entire film. I can’t help but wonder if the film would have fared better had there been more attempts at magic, which lead to ‘magic’ fights between the magicians. Instead at the midway mark the tricks fade out and we enter a sombre and tedious affair of Burt’s self-discovery.
It’s very noticeable that the direction was from a sitcom director. Don Scardino usually directs 30 Rock and that’s where he excels. The camera movements, character journeys and formulaic story arcs are all conventions of a typical sitcom and they’re all present here.
It’s hard to work out why the cast were attracted to this film. It even stars Oscar winner Alan Arkin, who possibly has the best gags albeit only one or two. What attracted him to this? Olivia Wilde is also only there to serve an unfulfilling and unrealistic sub-plot. Surely these actors are better than this?
The Incredible Burt Wonderstone has one or two laughs but with such a great cast you expect much more. If you’ve seen the trailer than you’ve seen the best bits and you can save yourself the hassle of having to see this illusion that zaps the fun out of the art of magic.