The Incredible Burt Wonderstone

Directed By: Don Scardino

Starring: Steve Carell, Steve Buscemi, Olivia Wilde, Alan Arkin, James Gandolfini, and Jim Carrey

American culture today is bereft of any real values or meaningful qualities.  Sadly, this is the product of my generation, the Millennials.  The plague of reality television and an ever-growing, ever-popular online library of senseless YouTube videos are symptomatic of these problems.  I'm not going to go on a full rant about everything that's wrong with our culture today.  However, what I will say is that there is plenty of other commentary out there on this “culture crisis”.  The last place I expected to find some healthy discourse on this was the disappointing magic comedy The Incredible Burt Wonderstone.

Since he watched the great Rance Holloway (Alan Arkin) and got that wonderful birthday gift from his mother so many years ago, Burt Wonderstone (Steve Carell) has been forever enamored with magic.  He shares his love of the impossible with his longtime companion Anton Marvelton (Steve Buscemi).  This love of all things extraordinary serves as the foundation of their magical friendship.  Together, they develop one hell of a magic show.  It's so successful that Bally's CEO Doug Munny (James Gandolfini) brought their act to the world-famous hotel and casino in Las Vegas.  They've been headlining at Bally's for the last ten years now.

After a decade of performing the same act in Sin City, Burt and Anton are at each other's throats.  They've lost their magic.  They're also losing their audience.  Ticket sales have taken a steep drop.  Their act is stale in comparison to folks like the outrageous street magician Steve Gray (Jim Carrey), who also goes by the moniker "The Brain Rapist".  His latest "act of magic" is holding his urine for 12 days straight, and the public is eating it up.  Gray and his crazy stunts are becoming the new face of magic, while Burt and Anton have done nothing to keep up.  When Doug Munny tells the duo to freshen up their act or face losing their show, Anton recommends some new stuff.  Burt, however, views their act as classic and won't change a thing.  When Burt's stubbornness comes crashing down on them, their magical friendship comes to an end.  Anton leaves the show, and the only person Burt has is his magical assistant Jane (Olivia Wilde).

The Incredible Burt Wonderstone is anything but incredible.  I can't say I'm shocked.  The trailers over the last several months haven't exactly wet my appetite.  Still, the movie is rather disappointing with its stale jokes, formulaic plot, and steady misuse of an overabundance of comedic talent.  The one thing Burt Wonderstone has going for it is its social commentary on the YouTube culture of our era with the largely symbolic clash between old school magic and the new school.  Regardless, The Incredible Burt Wonderstone is a stale comedy that just doesn't get the job done.

The comedy in the film is pretty sparse, and there's no excuse for this.  We have Steve Carell, Jim Carrey, and Alan Arkin together in one movie.  That should mean I'll be laughing my ass off.  Unfortunately, Steve Carell doesn't play up the egotistical rich snob in Wonderstone in a way that's funny and connects with audiences.  He portrays him as a humorless asshole.  As Steve Gray, Jim Carrey does have some funny moments, but a couple of chuckles is not what I expect from the veteran comedian.  Carrey's performance is more of a sad interpretation of our culture today than a satirical one.  Alan Arkin does deliver a few laughs as elder magician Rance Holloway, but he's no miracle worker. After the success of Argo, I have been really surprised with Arkin's film selection — Stand Up Guys and now The Incredible Burt Wonderstone.  He needs a new agent to get him better films.

Aside from the funny men who underperform throughout this magic comedy, Burt Wonderstone offers a mixed bag of supporting performances.  As Anton Marvelton, Steve Buscemi is unbelievably bland.  Nucky just doesn't bring much to the table.  There's absolutely nothing interesting about his character.  As Burt and Anton's assistant Jane, Olivia Wilde doesn’t do much to hold our attention either.  She initially gives us a strong female character but falls into the traps of the stereotypical female lead.  She becomes nothing more than a pretty face who does a little magic.  Finally, I don't know what the hell James Gandolfini is doing in this movie as Bally's CEO Doug Munny.  He just doesn't fit in a comedy like this.  His time on screen is pretty awkward because he's playing a realistic, greasy casino exec in what is supposed to be a wildly magical comedy.

Beyond flat humor and questionable supporting performances, predictability plagues The Incredible Burt Wonderstone.  There's nothing in this movie we couldn't see coming from a mile away.  Burt and Anton become friends sharing a common love for magic.  They successfully take their act to the stage.  Things eventually get stale, and their magical friendship ends up on the rocks.  After some time away, the two friends find their mojo and get back on stage.  Where's the originality in that?  All this movie offers is a standard formulaic comedy with a few cheap magic tricks and some awful dancing from Steve Carell and Steve Buscemi.

As bad as The Incredible Burt Wonderstone is, Jim Carrey's character Steve Gray offers some surprisingly thought-provoking commentary on the state of our culture today.  His outrageous magic includes holding his urine for dangerous periods of time, sleeping on red hot coals, and carrying out bloody, disgusting acts.  That's not magic.  That's brain rape.  However, that's the sort of nonsense we watch on YouTube and reality TV today, and it looks really sad and pathetic.  The misery of others has become a very sick form of entertainment that pays well, and The Incredible Burt Wonderstone serves as a sharp critique of this reality.  It just couldn't do this in a funny way.

The Incredible Burt Wonderstone gets a 0.09% rating.  This comedy is stale, formulaic, and ultimately underwhelming.  Have a few lemon drop martinis with this one.