Our story follows a young, bullied, adolescent boy, Burt Wonderstone, who finds solace and friendship in magic and goes on to become a two man act with his childhood best friend Anton Marvelton. The two make it all the way to their own Vegas show, but their two man show has strained their relationship and turned Burt into a grade A douchebag. This is where the film’s biggest issue lies.
Burt is a repulsive character and we have to deal with him at this level for over half of the film’s runtime. It’s not that Carell is bad in the part, the character is just written so poorly and there are no glimpses of goodness in him at all. This is a problem twofold; one, we don’t see how or what turned this sweet kid into this misogynist monster so we can’t be sympathetic and two, we don’t care, want or think he deserves to be redeemed in the final act. The evolving of that redemption is handled alright for the most part, but it still feels false on top of not caring if he is redeemed in the first place. The biggest violation the film makes revolves around Olivia Wilde’s Jane who has the potential to be this self made magician, but is instead served up to Burt after being repelled by him over the course of almost the entirety of the film. It’s even a bigger shame because they more or less waste everything Wilde has to offer and she shows some excellent comedic chops in her first couple of scenes before being marginalized to a romantic interest.
The film should also work much better than it does given all the talent involved, but things fall flat much of the time. That isn’t to say the film isn’t without its moments, Jim Carrey and Steve Buscemi in particular shine, but the big laughs are sporadic and often a bit too telegraphed. I did enjoy Alan Arkin quite a bit (he is better here than in his overrated Argo performance), but he is also used just the right amount unlike the rest of the cast. Buscemi is criminally under used and Carrey should have been more naturally integrated into the plot instead of just popping in and out on a whim. James Gandolfini has his moments, but is again hit or miss. Jay Mohr also comes out of nowhere and is kind of funny, but he is fleeting in his appearances and is forced into the finale. The big reveal of the execution of the finale was one of the best laughs of the film I will admit, but it is way too late and one of only a few clever jokes throughout the picture.
The Incredible Burt Wonderstone is mostly a miss and that’s a shame because the premise and world of magicians is ripe for comedy. A weak script holds all of the performers back and its characterizations are more than appalling on a number of occasions. Everyone involved has done better work and this is probably best enjoyed on your couch, on cable, in the background while you are doing something else unimportant a couple years down the line.
The Incredible Burt Wonderstone is a D