The Incredible Burt Wonderstone
(2013, US, d. Don Scardino)
As geeky as it is to admit, magic tricks have always been a low-key passion of mine. With the right trick, the audience is left with the unique feeling of having just witnessed something paranormal while their minds struggle to find a rational explanation for those events. It’s a feeling of awe and wonder – both for the spectator and the magician.
The Incredible Burt Wonderstone gets off on the right foot. For a second there, it actually convinces you that, at its core, the story is about capturing that magic. In the opening frame, we’re introduced to the elementary-school version of the title character (Mason Cook) as he runs away from bullies. It’s Burt’s birthday, and just like everyone at school, even his mother can’t make time for him. But in her place, Ms. Wonderstone leaves a present that will change Burt’s life forever: a magic kit created by the world-famous magician Rance Holloway (Alan Arkin).
Soon after, Wonderstone is enveloped in the world of magic. At school, he is finally able to make his first friend: Anton Marvelton (played by Luke Vanek, one of the strangest-looking but amusing child actors to grace the screen in awhile). As Anton and Burt become best friends and more and more obsessed with magic, the film transitions to years later – where an adult Wonderstone and Marvelton (Steve Carell and Steve Buscemi, respectively) awe an audience at their Las Vegas show.
Soon, we discover that the magic, however, has long worn off. Wonderstone and Marvelton are barely on speaking terms and Burt seems to have traded any fascination he had with magic for a masochistic, and agressive personality. Meanwhile, their age-old act is threatened when “street magician” and self-proclaimed “brain rapist” Steve Gray (Jim Carrey) enters the scene of Vegas magic shows. Sounds funny, right? Keep reading.
Wonderstone is eventually cast out of his gig, and begins the inevitable, formulaic journey of reconnecting with what made him love magic in the first place and appreciating those around him to finally stage his comeback.
It’s a role that screams “Carell”. Carell’s wonderful chemistry of aggression and egocentrism, knack for comedic timing, and intuition for character seems like the perfect ingredients for Wonderstone. But for some reason, Carell is the first one to misstep. Here, he feels stilted. His eyes wildly motion to the audience, trying to let the us know how much he doesn’t want to be in this movie and how much he knows it’s gonna suck. Unfortunately for the example, whether Carell had fully committed or not doesn’t change how mediocre this film was bound to turn out.
Sloppy editing, a formulaic script devoid of any heart, and uninspired direction work closely together to defeat the talents of its incredible cast. Even Olivia Wilde, who does nothing for the story but serve as eye candy and an easy screenwriting tool, couldn’t get my attention off how much better this film could have been. But boy, does she serve as eye candy!
Apart from the refreshing soundtrack (most of which was just taken from Spotify’s Top 100), Jim Carrey provides the only honest moments of comic relief. Though his scenes are few and sparse, Carrey steals the show with every line he’s given. Steve Gray, like Wonderstone, seems written for Carrey. But unlike Carell, Carrey is able to make it work – even whilst winking to the audience, acknowledging his own preposterousness.
At the end of the day, what disappoints me the most is that The Incredible Burt Wonderstone is built on promising and unique foundations, but consciously tries to sabotage itself by rearranging its pieces into something that would fit the structure of a Hollywood film.
Unfortunately, unless you’re looking for some sparse laughs, the trick to this film is looking elsewhere.