Two stale Vegas magicians meet their match in the form of a performance artist who steals their audience. Old school and new collide in a battle to be Vegas’ top act.
Featuring a couple of egomaniacal jerks (played by Steve Carell and Jim Carrey) who do battle via magic acts, “The Incredible Burt Wonderstone” is certainly a movie that will give you a laugh or two along the way, but might not be anything to rush right out and see.
Burt Wonderstone and (Steve Carell) and Anton Marvelton (Steve Buscemi) have been the hottest magic act in Vegas for decades. The two grew up together, and took solace from being picked on at school by practicing magic. Together they rose to the top of their profession, to the point where they earned their own theatre named after them at Bally’s Casino.
Now there’s a new kind of magic on the strip, however. Street stunt artist Steve Gray (Jim Carrey) is making headlines via outrageous tricks that threaten to do him bodily harm. While traditional stage magicians like Wonderstone and Marvelton turn their noses up at what he’s doing, the public eats it up, which in turn hurts their ticket sales. When the owner of the casino (James Gandolfini) demands that they modernize their act, the two are forced to attempt a magic stunt similar to Gray’s.
When things go disastrously wrong, however, the two lifelong friends find themselves out of work and at odds with each other.
Wonderstone is left to rebuild his career by recalling what he loved about magic in the first place. To do so, he’ll need the help of his assistant (Olivia Wilde) and the man who first led him to begin practice magic: Rance Holloway (Alan Arkin), a popular magician from long ago whose magic kit inspired Wonderstone and Marvelton as young boys. Can he pull himself and his team together in time to compete for the coveted contract to be headline attraction at a newly opening hotel and casino?
In Wonderstone, Carell crafts yet another one of his patented dense as a brick characters, only this time, he’s also an egotistical, boorish jerk. Seriously, I mean, he’s really a demeaning asshole to people. Over the course of the film, of course, we get to see his gradual softening into a decent individual, but most of the humor, especially early on, is derived from watching him be a pompous jerk. Jim Carrey plays an arrogant, smug bastard, as well, but this time a little on the spacey side. His Steve Gray is a tattooed punk whose tricks are less magic acts and more freakshow performances, and his popularity leads him to be completely dismissive of the traditional magicians.
The film is at its best when it pits the two of them against each other. It’s quite funny to watch these buffoons preen and try to one up each other. And each of their characters is humorous in just how self-absorbed they are… Wonderstone in his velvet and sequins and Gray with his tattoos and leather pants. It’s also funny to watch them rag on each others styles of magic, and to trade off against each other trick for trick.
The film’s big laugh quotient is a little light, however, and it may dedicate a touch too much time to Wonderstone’s change of heart. Arkin and Buscemi are woefully underutilized; both are well proven comedic talents who get few at bats here. While I found the movie to be funny and enjoyable overall, it’s hard to shake the feeling that with this murderer’s row of comedians, they couldn’t have come up with a funnier film.
Regardless, “The Incredible Burt Wonderstone” features some silly characters, some fun comedic face offs between Carell and Carrey, and pokes plenty of fun at the world of magic. It won’t become your favorite comedy, but it’s bound to give you plenty of chuckles over the course of its runtime.