The Incredible Burt Wonderstone

© 2013 Ray Wong

Steve Carell used to be funny. What happened? That was the question I kept asking while watching The Incredible Burt Wonderstone.

Burt (Steve Carell) was a small town kid who used to get bullied, until he found his calling: magic. On his birthday he was given a Rance Holloway (Alan Arkin) Magic Kit by his mother, and he was hooked immediately. Through his desire to become a great magician like Rance, he became popular and also met his best friend Anton (Steve Buscemi). Anton became his partner in crime and together they became one of the biggest act in Las Vegas.

30 years of friendship and fame later, they see their following dwindling rapidly. There is a new guy in town named Steve Gray (Jim Carey), a street magician who performs outrageous stunts. Burt and Anton at first consider Steve a hack, but as their own act becomes stale and they lose their younger audiences, their boss, casino mogul Doug Munny (James Gandolfini) fires them. Burt's ego becomes so big and his lifestyle so lavish that he's instantly broke but he refuses to acknowledge his problems, and his friendship with Anton suffers. They finally go their separate ways.

Burt has to find odd jobs to make ends meet. Eventually, he works as an entertainer at a retirement home, and that's where he meets his idol Rance. The retired magician inspires Burt once again, as he did 30 years ago, and reminds Burt what magic means to him. Through the help of an aspiring magician Jane (Olivia Wilde), Burt finds his passion again, and most important, his friendship with Anton. Together, they must defeat Steve Gray and get back to the top again.

Steve Carell (Crazy, Stupid, Love) used to be funny when he was just a side character, but since he became a leader man, his brand of humor becomes more and more cliched and tiresome with every new film. That is, except when he is actually doing a dramedy such as Crazy, Stupid, Love. In a full-on comedy, though, he seems to be satisfied with playing the same character over and over again. Burt Wonderstone is no different from the assortment of bumbling fools he's played before, and throughout the film I keep reminding myself "there is a danger of being typecast." No doubt these films have made Mr. Carell very, very, rich, but they are also on the path of career suicide if he keeps taking them.

Steve Buscemi (On the Road) has a better time with the character of Anton, a soft-spoken, gentle friend that is so different from his character in Broadwalk Empire. Buscemi is the true chameleon here. Olivia Wilde (People Like Us) has done some good films as well as duds lately. Unfortunately, this goes to her column of duds -- she needs to find something better if she wants to break out of her "supporting actress in crappy movies" status. Jim Carrey (Mr. Popper's Penguins) also seems to phone in his performance as the eccentric, crazy street magician. There is absolutely no depth or dimensions to his character -- I think Mr. Carrey has resigned to steer clear of deeper, dramatic characters and stick with being a human cartoon.

Rounding out the cast are Alan Arkin (Argo) whose talent is wasted here, and James Gandolfini (Zero Dark Thirty) as the uncaring mogul (aka Donald Trump). Jay Mohr (Hereafter) also has a small role that amounts to nothing.

Written by Jonathan W. Goldstein and John Francis Daley of Horrible Bosses, the screenplay is a letdown considering how sharply satirical and funny Horrible Bosses was. They could have done so much with the bizarre world of Vegas showbiz, but they seriously miss the boat by focusing on the lame aspects of the story and characters that are caricatures and cliches. There is not a doubt where the story is heading and how it is going to end. There is no suspense, no twists, and no depth. If Bridesmaids could achieve all that while being hilariously funny, these writers need to up their game. 

Don Scardino (30 Rock) came from TV, and it shows. His direction is pedestrian and uninspired, and the whole film has a TV episode look and feel to it. He does what he's paid for doing, but I'd be embarrassed to mention this on my resume if I were him, especially if I want to cross over to film from TV.

Burt Wonderstone is a lame, cliched, tiresome comedy that never really takes off.

Stars: Steve Carell, Steve Buscemi, Olivia Wilde, Jim Carrey, James Gandolfini, Alan Arkin, Jay Mohr
Director: Don Scardino
Writers: Jonathan W. Goldstein, John Francis Daley
Distributor: Warner Bros.
MPAA Rating:  PG-13 for sexual content, dangerous stunts, drug-related incident, language
Running Time: 100 minutes


Script - 6
Performance - 6
Direction - 7
Cinematography - 7
Music/Sound - 6
Editing - 7
Production - 7

Total - 6.2 out of 10.0 

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