Review: The Incredible Burt Wonderstone (2013)

The Incredible Burt Wonderstone is a comedy about rival magicians, starring Steve Carell and supported by Jim Carrey, Steve Buscemi, Alan Arkin, Olivia Wilde and the late James Gandolfini.

Before Steve Carell hit the big time with The 40-Year-Old Virgin, he made a hilarious appearance as Jim Carrey’s newsreader nemesis in Bruce Almighty. Now the tables have turned in The Incredible Burt Wonderstone as they play a pair of magicians battling for supremacy in Las Vegas. With a supporting cast of Steve Buscemi, Alan Arkin, Olivia Wilde and the late James Gandolfini, this should have been a recipe for success – and it would have been ten years ago.

Burt Wonderstone (Carell) and his showbiz partner Anton Marvelton (Buscemi) have been magicians since they were kids. Having achieved stardom by performing at Doug Munny (Gandolfini)’s Las Vegas hotel for the last ten years, their popularity starts to decline as they have never updated their routine. Things go further awry when newcomer street magician Steve Gray (Carrey) starts stealing their thunder with his extreme form of tricks.

After an attempt to re-invent themselves turns into a disaster because of Wonderstone’s self-centredness, he and Marvelton fall out and there are subsequently dropped by Doug. It is left to aspiring female magician Jane (Wilde) to show Wonderstone the way back to success and get one over the equally egotistical Gray.

The main problem with this comedy is that who and what they are parodying is no longer significant, or even in the public’s mind – David Blaine’s 2003 glass box stunt over the River Thames to name but one. Fans of magic will feel some nostalgia and understand the scenarios, and the jokes on their own are amusing to an extent (Carrey attempting to hold in his pee for three days, for example). But it just feels so… dated.

It is not helped by the fact that Burt Wonderstone is the magician equivalent of Ron Burgundy from Anchorman, so we’ve seen this narcissistic character before. It starts promising enough; Carell and Buscemi make a good double-team, and James Gandolfini, in his last big screen outing before his death, leaves a comedy footprint in the deadpan hotel owner role. But it is Carrey as the delightful bad guy (and in an obvious send-up of Criss Angel) who steals the show, despite only being in less than a third of the film.

There are also a few cracking lines, as well as the final reveal of their last trick being wonderfully macabre – but as this plays over the end credits, it’s a case of too little, too late. Other than that, there is a flat feeling to this whole spectacle, producing plenty of razzle but very little dazzle.

If the spotlight wasn’t firmly on Carell, the comedy might not have been so formulaic, and it could have really done without Wilde as his love interest. And what the hell Jay Mohr is doing here is anybody’s guess (certainly not adding to any laughs).  Even with its first-rate cast, The Incredible Burt Wonderstone cannot cast a spell to make this work. Let’s hope there will be a bit more magic the next time Carell and Carrey get together.

Best dialogue:

Wonderstone: “Are you a lesbian?”

Jane:  “Is every woman who doesn’t sleep with you a lesbian?

Wonderstone: “Oh no, I have slept with plenty of lesbians.”

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