Sometimes it seems like magicians are begging us to make fun of them. There are the bedazzled jumpsuits and feathered hair in Vegas, the pseudo-zen stunts from tools like Chris Angel and the nerdy kid who thinks card tricks are a ticket to being awesome. Magic has that perfectly potent mix of lameness and self-aggrandizement that’s like a “kick me” sign to comedians.
So naturally, magician jokes have been done – a lot. And from the “illusions” of “Arrested Development’s” Gob Bluth to the self-effacing humor of Penn and Teller, they have often been done with style in originality.
“The Incredible Burt Wonderstone” enters this well-trodden territory, deploying a superstar cast – led by Steve Carell, Steve Buscemi and Jim Carrey – to take one more swing at the world of magic.
The result is peppered with laughs but eventually lags due to a lack of the quality most essential for comedy and magic alike – surprise. The performances from the high-profile leads and a few fresh ideas do manage to pull some solid laughs out of this old-hat conceit, but nevertheless “Burt Wonderstone” often feels as stale as the old “card-up-the-sleeve” bit.
It’s not just in choosing magicians as the subject that the film flails; the core narrative arc to “Burt Wunderstone” is so typical in today’s Hollywood buddy-comedies, it’s practically become transparent. Think of the storyline of Will Ferrell’s NASCAR movie, “Talladega Nights,” and you’ll pretty much know the trajectory of “Burt Wonderstone.”
Carell plays the title role, who as a lonely child is inspired to begin a career in magic after receiving a Rance Holloway magic kit complete with a video from Rance himself – played by a very funny Alan Arkin in the role of yet another crotchety old guy. Wonderstone overcomes bullying to become a magician superstar. He finds success in a partnership with his best friend, Anton Marvelton, played by Buscemi returning to his goofy comedic roots after stretching his legs in the gritty world of “Boardwalk Empire.” Ca
rell and Buscemi’s characters channel Siegfried & Roy (minus the tigers) to land a cushy gig on a Las Vegas casino stage.
But, like every Will Ferrell buddy movie ever made, the bromance is eventually tested. With fame, Marvelton and Wonderstone lose their sense of wonder and become bitter rivals as sick of magic as they are of each other. Their partnership is further tested with the appearance of the inevitable “new kid on the block” character, a Chris Angel prototype complete with silver nail polish, a terrible goatee and violently frosted tips, played in typical outlandish style by Jim Carrey.
From here, we can all see where this is going. There is a grand falling out involving the duo attempting a David Blaine-style trick in a suspended transparent box. The scene results in one of the funniest moments of the movie, as a sweat-soaked, claustrophobic Steve Carell frantically yells and runs around the tiny box.
Then (not-so-spoiler alert) everything works out. And when it does, it’s less “Alakazam!” and more “Alright then,” though there is one fun twist at the end that makes it worth the wait.
Most of the movie plays as such: You wait through the boring exposition for the little nuggets of laughs. There are moments that remind us why the movie’s leads are stars. There are several great scenes with Arkin wisecracking or pulling off a truly unexpected trick, Carell’s brilliant sense for awkward comedy is pretty foolproof and Carrey’s role, while it relies heavily on gross-out comedy, has a few inspired gags using what he does best – off the wall comedy.
“Burt Wonderstone” is certainly not an incredible film, but if all you’re looking for is a few laughs, it just might do the trick.