by Ken B.
The problem with movies about magicians and magic tricks is that illusions through film or on a screen just aren’t as impressive as they are in real life. I noticed this is in Now You See Me (Leterrier, 2013). Now I’ve seen a movie about magicians of a radically different style. The Incredible Burt Wonderstone is a comedy, and while I did find several funny moments, there were too many mediocre and stale lines to redeem this into the line of a recommendation.
Steve Carell and Steve Buscemi star as a pair of Las Vegas magicians who perform with the names Burt Wonderstone and Anton Marvelton. They have the showmanship of Liberace and the scope of David Copperfield (Copperfield has a cameo and was a magic advisor on the film). For years, they’ve performed exclusively in the same theater in the same casino/hotel. The owner of the establishment, Doug Munny, (the late JAMES GANDOLFINI) notices that the ticket sales for Burt and Anton’s show are sharply declining, a phenomenon attributed to the rise of street magicians, especially Steve Gray (JIM CARREY), who performs stunts on a TV show entitled Steve Gray: Mind Rapist (the character comes off like a parody of Criss Angel or David Blaine). While Burt brushes off Gray’s act, Anton sees it as a template for re-gaining fame.
Well, their first attempt at Gray-like magic fails catastrophically with Burt causing Anton to become injured. The partnership is over, and possibly their friendship, one maintained since childhood. Burt looks to various new partners, before stumbling across Rance Holloway (ALAN ARKIN), a retired magician in a nursing home, who was Burt’s childhood idol.
It felt like that in most scenes, there was one joke that worked, preceded by five duds. The viewing experience, especially during the film’s dragging second act, proved a tedious event. A mildly intriguing finale couldn’t redeem this. I may have set a personal speed record for removing the disc from my player and sealing the Netflix envelope back up.
The actors are certainly not the problem. From Carell to Gandolfini, everyone tries their best to salvage this frighteningly mediocre script. This movie is probably the best it can be – I don’t want to know what the film would have looked like if obscure performers had been given the roles. Director Don Scardino and cinematographer Matthew Clark do a fairly poor job. The movie probably would have been enhanced with the addition of some flashy camera shots during the Burt and Anton magic shows, but there is nothing of any interest to be seen there.
The Incredible Burt Wonderstone could be called, at best, a satisfactory distraction. There’s a reviewer who once referred to how many hit-and-miss comedies can be used as a movie to play in the background of a house party. People wandering by might get a chuckle or two and move on. This is an ideal example of that kind of movie. Not bad enough to use as a coaster, but not good enough to warrant continuous attention for its 100 minute runtime.