Directed by: Don Scardino.
Written by: Jonathan M. Goldstein & John Francis Daley and Chad Kultgen & Tyler Mitchell.
Starring: Steve Carell (Burt Wonderstone), Steve Buscemi (Anton Marvelton), Olivia Wilde (Jane), Jim Carrey (Steve Gray), James Gandolfini (Doug Munny), Alan Arkin (Rance Holloway), Jay Mohr (Rick the Implausible), Michael Herbig (Lucius Belvedere).
Steve Carell is one of the most likable actors currently working. Even during his stint on The Office, he made Michael Scott into more of a lovable doofus who means well, but doesn’t realize how horrible some of the things he does are – which was fairly far away from Ricky Gervais’ David Brent, who was much more hateable. One of things I have said about Carell in recent films in that he needs to play a bad guy – he’s so good at being nice, that he makes it look too easy, and the routine was starting to wear a little thin. Someone else must have told Carell the same thing because he isn’t a nice guy in The Incredible Burt Wonderstone (and if the previews are to believed, not in The Way, Way Back either). In this movie, he plays a pompous ass – a world famous magician who has all the money and women he could possibly want, and really nothing else. His act hasn’t changed in years, and although he still shares the stage with his childhood friend Anton Marvelton (Steve Buscemi), they have long since stopped speaking to each other off the stage. It isn’t until he is forced to change, that Burt Wonderstone realizes what an ass he’s been.
Carell is fine in the title role, but the movie itself is a rather lazy concoction. Most of the laughs are generated by Jim Carrey as Steve Gray – a magician in the Criss Angel vein. Carrey goes wildly over the top – which is his specialty – doing one ludicrous “trick” after another – like holding his urine for 12 days, or sleeping on a bed of hot coals. He is the new breed of magician – one who doesn’t really do magic the way many remember it – with sleight of hand tricks and illusions, but instead just inflicts pain upon himself and calls it magic. It has been too long since Carrey did this kind of performance – and if there is a reason to see the film, it’s for his crazy brilliance in the role.
It’s the rest of the movie that doesn’t work very well. Like I said, Carell is fine in the lead, but the role is too broadly written. There really doesn’t seem to be much of a character there to play. The same could be said for Carrey’s role to be fair, but the movie doesn’t try and make us care about his character – and also doesn’t try to convince us he’s changed very much. Carell is left on screen trying to make his character believable, and it just doesn’t work.
There are some good moments in the film – including a hilarious news report of Anton’s attempt to bring magic to the poor children of Africa. But if Carell’s role in underwritten, Buscemi’s is barely written at all – he’s just there because they need him there for plot purposes. The same could be said for Olivia Wilde’s role, who starts as an assistant to Burt and Anton, and gradually morphs into a love interest for Burt, simply because she’s there. Alan Arkin and the late, great James Gandolfini show up in smaller supporting roles as an old time magician and a sleazy casino owner respectfully, and have a few nice moments, but are basically wasted.
The Incredible Burt Wonderstone is hardly a painful movie to sit through – it moves along with quiet, uninspired efficiency (courtesy of veteran TV director Dan Scardino), and when Carrey is on screen, the movie comes alive. But the rest of the movie is little more than mildly diverting – not a horrid way to spend an evening, but not a very good one either. Now if the movie had been called Steve Gray: Brain Rapist, they really may have had something here.