Thursday, January 16, 2014

The Incredible Burt Wonderstone

Directed by Don Scardino.
2013. Rated PG-13, 100 minutes.
Jay Mohr
Michael Herbig
Mason Cook
Luke Vanek
David Copperfield

As a kid, Burt Wonderstone (Carell) receives a “magic kit” for a birthday gift and eagerly learns every trick in it as fast as he can. He soon amazes Anton (Buscemi) and the two bond over their love of magic and grow up to be wealthy and world famous magicians. However, after ten years of headlining a Las Vegas show together, things have gotten stale. The passion is no longer there. Worse yet, ticket sales are dwindling as their dated act has been marginalized by a popular, and possibly psychotic, street magician named Steve Gray (Carrey). Think Criss Angel mixed with David Blaine. After a stunt to reclaim their relevance goes horribly wrong, Bert and Anton break up. Anton travels the world doing humanitarian work. Sorta. We focus on Bert who is not only out of work, but also broke and trying to figure out how to get back in the game.

Steve Carell is the absolute perfect person to play Burt Wonderstone. He embodies the character to such a degree we totally buy into this guy’s plight. He manages this while simultaneously ensuring we don’t really like him that much. There is no denying that Burt is a class A jerk. However, we always understand him to be a guy who has lost his way. This is what keeps us invested in the movie. We want to see if our hero can find himself again.

Burt’s quest is greatly enhanced by the surrounding characters. Most notable are Jane (Wilde) and Steve Gray. They function as the angel and devil on Burt’s shoulders. Wilde is solid as a love interest and really isn’t asked to do much, but does ground Burt. Jim Carrey more than makes up for her as Burt’s big competition. He plays Gray as a totally unhinged parody of “modern” magic. Not to be outdone, Alan Alda shines as the yoda-like Rance Holloway. No, he is nothing like the master jedi in demeanor or personality, but his status in this world is similar. Alda plays it with his trademarked gruffness. Somehow, he is simultaneously dismissive and caring. This makes him lovable. As Burt’s partner-in-magic, Buscemi is much tamer than usual which serves the movie well. The same could be said for the late James Gandolfini.

None of this would matter if the movie were not funny. Personally, I laughed quite a bit. A good deal of the jokes are double entendres. Others are pop culture references. Those dealing with tricks performed by Steve Gray are disgusting. Even the people in the movie recognize this. That self-awareness adds humor to them so they work. As a matter of fact, the movie is aware of all of its own absurdity. This knowledge of self adds an all-encompassing layer of sarcasm to the proceedings. In any event, most things are at least worthy of a snicker. This helps things move smoothly.

That it moves so fluidly is a huge plus in favor of The Great Burt Wonderstone. It knows that it is shallow and light and doesn’t pretend to be anything different. As long as you don’t go searching for something deeper, you will have an enjoyable time.


  1. I don't think I enjoyed the film as much as you did, but I enjoyed your review.

    1. That's really I can hope for. Thanks for reading and taking a sec to comment!

  2. I was pleasantly surprised by this film, and I agree Carrey was the best thing about it, though I thought Carell went too far into the unlikeable territory, as I didn't really want him to succeed in the end.

    1. Pleasantly surprised is certainly an accurate to describe my experience as well. I wasn't expecting much at all. I can see how Carell would rub some people the wrong way, but his act worked for me.

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