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'Burt Wonderstone' less than incredible

By Brendon Field
On March 25, 2013

What happens when you combine a cast of talented character actors, an interesting premise, a formulaic script and a direction that's bland as yogurt? You get a quaint little slice of mediocrity called "The Incredible Burt Wonderstone."
The film stars Steve Carell as a Las Vegas stage magician who goes by Burt Wonderstone. He's a conceited moron whose career goes south after a fallout with his partner and childhood friend Anton (Steve Buscemi). He hits rock bottom and has to reestablish himself by climbing the ladder all over again and amending past wrongs.
If the story sounds familiar, it's because it's also the plot of 1,000 other not very good karma driven comedies. It takes forever to get going and is so mundane in tone and uninspired in atmosphere it never becomes interesting. This is a movie about magicians; it's a fascinating career in a fascinating industry, but it's completely underutilized. The magic tricks aren't very creative and I couldn't believe the illusions were actually being preformed; rather it was just being done in an editing room.
Another problem is Carell. He normally excels at playing pompous idiots, but here his camp goes too far, making his character seem cartoonish. Burt also has every unlikable characteristic in the book: egotism, insensitivity, sexism, etc. It's too the point where come the second half when he learning all his lessons, the turnaround is difficult to buy. Jim Carrey has the role of the film's antagonist, Steve Gray, a TV magician whose tricks all involve self mutilation. I did appreciate how the film utilizes him to make a statement about the decline of class and showmanship in performance art. But the problems here are that his character has the same shtick repeated about a dozen times, and Jim Carrey should not be playing villains. It was made clear in "The Cable Guy" that the less likable he is, the less funny. Olivia Wilde plays the generic love interest. James Gandolfini plays the generic Vegas tycoon. Alan Arkin, easily the best part of the movie, plays Rance Halloway, a veteran magician who becomes Burt's mentor.
The actual comedy isn't exactly great, but does manage to make the film tolerable. A lot of it is dialogue based but it's well balanced with visual humor. There are some clever lines and stunts, and while Carell does overdo his performance, his buffoonish manner generates some humor in the first act. There aren't any big laughs, but a lot of small ones, and at its worst "Burt Wonderstone" is just unfunny, never becoming grading or offensive. Although it doesn't help that a lot of the jokes are predictable, repetitive and lack flow, feeling inserted into the screenplay.
If "The Incredible Burt Wonderstone" wanted to succeed, it should have taken a closer look at the magicians its attempting to parody. The best and most successful magicians are creative and innovative, and don't fall back onto the same rudimentary illusions that have been performed for centuries. Nobody wants to see the same old card trick, no matter how well it's performed.

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