Film Review: The Incredible Burt Wonderstone

by Marie Carney on March 15, 2013

Steve Carell and Steve Buscemi in The Incredible Burt Wonderstone

Steve Carell and Steve Buscemi in The Incredible Burt Wonderstone

starring: Steve Carell, Steve Buscemi, Jim Carrey, Olivia Wilde, Alan Arkin

screenplay:  John Francis Daley & Jonathan M. Goldstein

director:  Don Scardino

MPAA:  Rated PG-13 for sexual content, dangerous stunts, a drug related incident and language.

The Incredible Burt Wonderstone opens on an adorable bright faced little boy getting the crap beat out of him in 1982. If that wasn’t bad enough, it turns out it’s the kid’s birthday and he has been left home alone by his mother to make his own cake. Though one thing does go well for him: a magic kit as a birthday present. The look on the boy’s face when he opens the present and sees the magic kit is the first moment that takes what could otherwise be a throwaway comedy of extreme silliness and turns it in to something heartfelt and relate-able.  It is his present face that reminds you of that one time you got exactly what you were hoping for and you just knew it would change your life.

Luckily for Burt Wonderstone (Steve Carell) it really does change his life. After we watch Burt and Anton (Steve Buscemi) become friends as little boys we fast forward thirty years to their over the top magic show in Bally’s Casino in Las Vegas. They are still “magical friends” and their show is a charming display of friendship and big illusions. But… Burt is not happy! He is bored by the monotony of doing the same show night after night with the same person and only seems to light up during the part of the show where he selects a female volunteer, whom, of course, he very creepily fucks later (ok. they don’t show that part, I just assume from the lead up).  For his part Anton Marvelton is also unhappy, but mostly about Burt’s unwarranted surliness (this movie is about Burt Wonderstone after all).

After proving that Burt and Anton are no longer magical friends the movie introduces a bigger problem: a new more popular magician named Steve Gray (Jim Carrey) a not at all veiled David Blaine character. He is performing his “magic” on the street which is a card trick involving enough blood and prosthetics that I squirmed in my seat and covered my eyes. Obviously, the older magicians are horrified at this perversion of their craft, but the people love it and quickly Burt and Anton lose their audience to this new style of magic and are forced by their boss to try a stunt of their own, which of course just proves how the pair has grown apart and sticks the final wedge in between them. And that my friends, is the ridiculous Act I that The Incredible Burt Wonderstone has to worm its way out of without making you feel like it’s too crazy to buy in to.

To add a little twist of fate, Burt Wonderstone ends up working as a magician in an old folks home where he meets Rance Holloway (Alan Arkin) the same magician that inspired his career with his magic kit. And then the healing begins! This is a feel good comedy so I don’t think I’m spoiling anything to say Rance helps Burt rediscover his love of magic, makes him a better magician and helps put him on the path of it all working out well in the end.

You may have noticed that I completely left out Olivia Wilde’s character, Jane, of the plot. That is because, in typical magician’s assistant fashion, she really only exists as someone the other characters bounce their ideas off of. It’s a shallow character with little do other than be a pretty place holder. The one weak part of the movie was the love/hate story between Jane and Burt. It was the typical pretty girl charmed by asshole because she knows deep down that he really isn’t a jerk, even though he acts like a jerk 99% of the time. Ugh. But let’s get back to the good parts.

There were really two things that made this movie work in my opinion, and made it work even better because they were mixed together. First is the heartfelt relate-able moments that I mentioned before, like receiving the perfect present or feeling jealous of the new guy that is getting what you want. Second is all the hilariously weird turns it takes that only a magic show can make believable. Like a partially de-boned dove coming out of a salt shaker, or “Operation Presto” where Anton brings magic to starving children who most likely eat the rabbits they are supposed to pull out of hats.

I am definitely telling my friends to go see The Incredible Burt Wonderstone. It is so weird and charming that I can only imagine those of black heart or those of jaded over-seriousness hating it. So, you know, if you’re really serious or hate predictable charming comedies, don’t go see this, but if you like a good laugh and some quotable moments then this movie is highly recommended.

The Incredible Burt Wonderstone opens nationwide today


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