There is really nothing that is as simultaneously cool and dorky as magic. At some point in our lives, every one of us has been dumbfounded and amazed by a magic trick, be it at a birthday party or a Las Vegas theater.
But like any hobby that borders on obsession, those who get a little too into magic enter a territory that falls somewhere between patently absurd and moderately creepy.
It is this same territory that “The Incredible Burt Wonderstone” mines for laughs. And like any good magic show, you’ll walk out thoroughly entertained and probably a little embarrassed that you enjoyed yourself as much as you did.
The titular Burt Wonderstone is admirably played by Steve Carell, who is slowly developing a brand as the headliner of competent, middle-of-the-road comedies. This movie is no different, although it is boosted out of mediocrity by an incredibly strong supporting cast.
Burt is a Las Vegas magician cut from the same theatrically enchanted cloth as David Copperfield and Siegfried and Roy. Burt and his put-upon partner Anton Marvelton (the great Steve Buscemi) are fixtures at Bally’s Casino under the employ of owner Doug Munny (James Gandolfini).
Success has made Burt cynically egotistical to the point that he fails to see that his show has slipped a notch or two.
The decline of Burt and Anton is accelerated by the appearance of extreme magician Steve Gray (Jim Carrey at his bizarrely-cartoonish best), whose antics and persona are reminiscent of David Blaine and Criss Angel.
The plot proceeds to follow the standard “fall from grace/return to glory” storyline as Burt must first be humbled before he regains his passion for magic.
After a falling out (quite literally) with Anton, Burt is set back on the right path with the help of his childhood hero, Rance Holloway (Alan Arkin, who honestly should be in every movie made from here on out).
Really, the only supporting cast member I had any problem with was Olivia Wilde as Jane, who goes from underappreciated assistant to Burt’s love interest.
My beef has nothing to do with Wilde’s acting ability because not only is she solid, but she actually has some decent comedy chops as well. The issue comes from the movie trying to sell this stunningly attractive woman as overlooked and insecure.
And don’t even try to make me buy that she was a friendless teenager because she was into magic. Olivia Wilde could have been an enthusiast of both Dungeons & Dragons and taxidermy in high school and still been asked to the prom by the entire football team.
“The Incredible Burt Wonderstone” marks the big-screen debut of longtime television director Don Scardino, who does the smart thing here and stays out of the way of his great cast.
Buscemi is really underappreciated as a comedic actor and can sell a joke with just a few facial tics. Carrey is as good here as he has been in years, and who better to play a bombastic foil who is just as interested in grossing out an audience as he is in entertaining it?
Carell does a fine job of carrying the movie on his good-natured shoulders. There is no one better at bringing heart and warmth to callow, self-righteous characters.
Most of the time, “The Incredible Burt Wonderstone” is more amusing than laugh-out-loud funny. That said, it does boast a handful of inspired moments, including a brilliant credits sequence that shows the hilariously ugly reality of what at first appears to be a glossed-over Hollywood ending.
In the end, this movie is not exactly magical, but it does have enough tricks up its sleeve to make it worth the price of admission.
“The Incredible Burt Wonderstone” is rated PG-13 for sexual content, dangerous stunts, a drug-related incident, and language.