The Incredible Burt Wonderstone won’t blow you away any more than (or even as much as) Oz the Great and Powerful. But if you’re looking for a generally innocuous, sometimes funny, and occasionally gross cinematic outing, Wonderstone does the trick. Even more so if you grew up with one of those magic kits that came with a long multi-colored handkerchief, fake quarter, top hat, and a loaded deck of cards. That will kick the nostalgia factor – and enjoyment factor – up a notch.
The movie is about two outcast kids who become superstar magicians in Vegas, raking in millions as The Incredible Burt Wonderstone (Steve Carell) and Anton Marvelton (Steve Buscemi). They are best of friends on stage, but in truth, the two have grown apart, their act has grown stale, and Wonderstone has devolved into a total jerk. The jig is basically up when a cutthroat street magician and reality TV star named Steve Gray (Jim Carrey), a.k.a. Brain Rapist, takes Vegas by storm. His antics are part Chriss Angel Mindfreak, part Jackass and totally cringe-worthy. Seriously kids, don’t try any of this stuff at home!
Burt and Anton are all but dead in the water unless they can reinvent themselves and their act and remember what drew them to magic to begin with. Burt, in particular, is in major need of redemption. Enter – the love interest, magicians’ assistant Jane (Olivia Wilde), and the mentor, veteran magician Rance Halloway (the always awesome Alan Arkin) to help Burt reclaim his love of magic, and his humanity. As that happens, Burt becomes, well, Steve Carell as you’ve seen him in all his other movie roles (Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, Crazy Stupid Love, Date Night, 40-Year-Old Virgin, etc.)
The Incredible Burt Wonderstone is funniest when it’s mocking itself, the absurdities of reality television, and the whole Vegas establishment. Burt and Anton’s wardrobe is straight out of Siegfried and Roy, Liberace, and ‘old’ Elvis. Arkin is fun to watch as the master magician ‘seen on TV’ in the 1970s and early 80s. James Gandolfini (The Sopranos) is fine as a constantly grinning, self-absorbed casino owner appropriately named Doug Munny. Actor/comedian Jay Mohr makes the most of a small supporting role as “Rick the Implausible”. And master illusionist and Vegas mainstay David Copperfield has a short, but cute cameo as himself. As for Steve Buscemi, he’s still one strange looking dude, but he works it and is actually quite likable as Anton.
In the end, there’s nothing particularly magical about Burt Wonderstone. The romance is formulaic and predictable, as is most of the plot. And the final scene is kind of weird. But overall, the movie was better than I expected – for what that’s worth. Abra-abra-cadabra, it’ll reach out and grab ya. And then – presto! – You’ll forget you ever saw it.
The movie is rated PG-13 for sexual content, dangerous stunts, a drug-related incident and language. You know, the kind of stuff you see on reality television…