The Incredible Burt Wonderstone (2013)

burt wonderstone

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There is a pile of stars haunting the lobby of The Incredible Burt Wonderstone, but the blandness of this movie is harder to hide than a sullen rabbit in a hat. What we have with this 2013 comedy is an auditorium full of potential, but director Don Scardino is clueless. It doesn’t help that the screenplay from John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein is a clunker of missed opportunities and flat jokes.

The world of magic is full of opportunity, especially the obnoxious Las Vegas brand of illusions that draws such larger-than-life personalities as David Copperfield and Criss Angel. The absurdity of the characters alone could provide carte blanche for a host of plot contrivances, but somehow The Incredible Burt Wonderstone squanders the Anchorman-sized chance.

Steve Carell stars as the titular character. He’s blossomed into one of Las Vegas’ principal attractions thanks to a blockbuster show that has him paired with his childhood friend Anton Marvelton (Steve Buscemi). Unfortunately, Wonderstone’s ego has become rather big. When a new and edgy street magician (Jim Carrey) named Steve Gray comes into the picture, trouble is afoot.

Gray’s “magic” threatens the old-fashioned Wonderstone and he takes his frustrations out on his partner, eventually causing a riff that splits up the team. Wonderstone hits rock bottom, working odd jobs in Vegas before landing in an assisted living facility. His former assistant Jane (Olivia Wilde) and his childhood hero Rance Holloway (Alan Arkin) try to help pull things together.

For all the potential for wild characters, it is perhaps a testament to this picture’s tepidness that James Gandolfini’s Doug Munny gets all the biggest laughs. The hotel manager with ridiculous ideas, Doug has the best lines in the film and Gandolfini’s leering and grinning delivery is coated in all the Las Vegas sleaze required.

There’s no doubt that expectations are supposed to be low for The Incredible Burt Wonderstone, but I’m tired of that being trotted out as an excuse for the banal. There is ample room for the theatre of the ridiculous in the realm of film comedy, without question, but this picture strays too far from the actual humour to generate anything resembling a good laugh.

In fairness, there are a few chuckles. Carrey’s character is a highlight whenever he’s on screen, yet his Steve Gray never actually goes far enough when one considers the jurisdiction of extreme illusions he resides in. His street magic already feels dated and his character seems to be locked into a box of the screenplay’s making, transporting a gifted physical comic into rather inadequate confines.

And that’s really the point here: for all of Burt Wonderstone’s intended focus on the ridiculous, Scardino’s movie seldom goes far enough. Nobody goes to the movies expecting to be bored to tears, but this flick accomplishes that in less time than it takes to polish off a plate of short ribs at a Vegas buffet.

There’s not a lot more to say. The Incredible Burt Wonderstone is a dud. It has none of the incongruous pop and sizzle that comes with the Vegas magic scene. It wastes its actors and the preponderance of its jokes land with an unpleasant clunk. The presentation is tedious, the set pieces are dreary and Carrey isn’t on screen enough. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to the buffet for another round of ribs.

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3 thoughts on “The Incredible Burt Wonderstone (2013)

  1. T’was a very strange film. A lot of what you write is true. The story, the atmosphere, the direction, and the general demeanour of the scenes are just very dull. I remember being very disappointed within the first 20mins but I must admit, the monent Carrey enters the frey, I felt the film exercised somewhat of a resurrection. All I can say about this film is that I actually laughed quite hard in the cinema that has not happened for a very long time. Sure the film as a whole left a lot to be desired and there were a lot of missed opportunities but I think the Carrey and Gandolfini and Arkin saved the day and definitely made this film worth a shot. There are some very good laughs in it.
    Well written though, and a lot of valid points, but a little harsh in my opinion.

  2. Good review Jordan. Just another one of those comedies that was thrown together, put on the shelf for a little, came out, and made nothing but a whimper. No surprise.

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