Film & TV

Review – The Incredible Burt Wonderstone

We’ve come a long way. Ten years ago Jim Carrey was the lead in Bruce Almighty with a young Steve Carell stealing the show. Flash forward ten years and Carell is the leading man now, with Carrey the supporting act. Does he steal the show like Carell did? And is Burt Wonderstone really all that incredible?

Burt and his magic partner, Anton (a very likable Steve Buscemi) are the most popular magicians in Vegas, or at least they were for the better part of two decades. Now every show features the two sniping at each other and the tension between them is exacerbated when they fall out of favour due to the arrival of street magician Steve Gray (Carrey). The two have a falling out, with Burt trying to make it on his own. Falling on hard times he takes work at an old folk’s home and meets up with childhood idol Rance Holloway (the perennially brilliant Alan Arkin). Taking inspiration from Rance, Burt rediscovers his passion for magic.

More formulaic than incredible, The Incredible Burt Wonderstone is a shaky film due to the rather suspect material and a dearth of successful jokes. Disappointingly there are few scenes between Carell and Carrey, instead preferring to keep them largely separate with each performing their own tricks (Or should they be called illusions). Carrey’s tricks are largely uninteresting despite the spectacle. It’s unclear whether the script is making fun of the ridiculousness of magic, or lovingly poking fun at its over-the-top nature.

It should come as no surprise that the best performer in Burt Wonderstone is the only cast member to have won an Academy Award. Arkin is delightful in the role of the curmudgeon magician, one who is a professional when it comes to magic, but a bit of an ass outside it, yet at no point does he appear obnoxious or arrogant. The same cannot be said for Carell though, as he is given the difficult task of treading the line between cynical yet endearing, and intolerable boastfulness. While such a character was enjoyable early on, it wears thin over time, as does the premise. 

What would have made a funny series of sketches seems rather thin on the ground in film form.  There are some funny moments in Burt Wonderstone, but they are largely forgotten by the end of the running time due to the long sections where there are no laughs.

It seems to be aping the style of film Judd Apatow is widely associated with, a blend of obnoxiousness mixed with childlike whimsy producing likeable characters. While not as long as Apatow’s films, Burt Wonderstone is not as funny either. There is never a period of sustained laughter, just the occasional fleeting line scattered throughout.

It is interesting that a film about making way for new performers features a cast who themselves should be making room for the new talent. Perhaps it is time that these stars featured in a disappearing act.

Conor Copeland


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