2013 continues to be one of the worst years for movies we’ve had for a while. By this point last year, we’ve had a few hits, a few box office marvels, and even a couple critical darlings. But in 2013, we get a comedy about magicians, who, in the world of The Incredible Burt Wonderstone, are for some reason the most popular thing about Las Vegas. In the case of Burt Wonderstone, it’s better not to ask “Why?”, “How?”, or “What studio in their right mind greenlit this?” and just revel in the lower-end mediocrity that is The Incredible Burt Wonderstone, which follows the titular Vegas magician and his partner-in-crime Anton Marvelton as their friendship is destroyed by the declining popularity of their act as a new, riskier magician arrives on the scene and threatens their turf.
The premise, and nearly everything about this film, from the magic tricks to the costumes to the soundtrack choices are ridiculous. Sometimes in a good way. Other times: not so much. But if there is one ridiculous thing this film does right, it’s the cast. Everyone here in a cast that includes quite the collection of talent seems to be having a ball while making this film. Their performances are over-the-top and outrageous, sometimes saving the film from its own deficiencies. Steve Carrell and Steve Buscemi are both in fine form here, but we’ve both seen them much better in much better comedies. However, their talent and presence is felt as a savior for this film at times, and it is certainly good to have them in the lead roles. Jim Carrey makes a fine but surprisingly forgettable appearance in one of the film’s most superfluous characters, the “villainous” rival magician whose gross-out acts are more cringe-worthy than funny (not purposefully, they’re supposed to be funny… they just aren’t). Surprisingly hilarious here are Alan Arkin and James Gandolfini, walking away with the best moments and lines in the film, mainly because their performances are the most sarcastic, dry, and in turn, most self-aware. Also appearing is Olivia Wilde, in fine form as she has been in other comedies such as The Change-Up, but there really isn’t much to talk about besides that.
The plot of The Incredible Burt Wonderstone follows a magic show that, over time, has become, as one character calls it, “rote”. Sometimes, I felt the same way about the film. It has moments where it becomes a trying experience, particularly with Carrey’s character, and the forced ridiculousness certainly doesn’t help. The film is at its absolute best when it is at its most self-aware, when Gandolfini is characterizing Vegas hotel owners or when Arkin is channeling an worn out showman in a retirement home. But showing us large ridiculous Vegas magic tricks that are more dreadfully corny than funny for a long, over-extended opening sequence is more tiring than laugh inducing. That said, once the magic show declines in popularity, the humor really picks up, and the jokes sting a little harder, with a little more edge, bite, and cleverness.
The turning point of the film really comes during a news segment in Cambodia (to explain would reveal some of the plot, so I’ll refrain) that shows us there really are some laughs to be had with this film, none of them playing off the initial conceit about magic. The magic applies none of the humor for the film, it’s all in the delivery, the cockiness of Wonderstone, or the zingers off the Vegas showman lifestyle. When that is taken into perspective, you realize the film is only funny because funny people are in it, but nothing about the story, script, or concept are particularly well done or worth noting.
In the end, I enjoyed myself throughout the film, although its glaring flaws in the fact that its formulaic, exhaustingly ridiculous at times, and somewhat, well, not incredible in all, it’s a simple time to pass you by at the movies. It will do no harm. But to find something it so does particularly well might require one hell of a magic trick.
FINAL GRADE: ★★★★★☆ (5.5/10 stars)
FINAL SAY: It benefits from a talented (and very funny) cast, but The Incredible Burt Wonderstone suffers from a story and script drenched in formula and imperfections.
The Incredible Burt Wonderstone will be released wide this Friday, March 15, 2013