By the awesome James Connors from.
When watching magic live, or even filmed live for TV, you get caught either in an air of wonder or studying every possible angle to work out how the trick is done. Maybe to try and feel smarter than the magician, or just to try your hand at it yourself. there’s often many reasons to remain entertained. The problem with a movie that revolves around magic is keeping the illusion alive, while the audience are aware of the nature of filmmaking. Films like ‘The Prestige’ add wonderful storytelling and intriguing characters to the foray, putting less emphasis on the tricks themselves and more on the story, but with a comedy your only real option is to go larger than life and provide audiences something beyond what they’ve ever seen before.
Starting in flashback, first impressions are actually pretty good. Burt (Steve Carrell) is often left to his own devices, to the point where at a young age he’s making the dinner his mother supposedly left out for him, until he receives a magic set for his birthday. He then meets Anton (Steve Buscemi), another nerdy kid at his school, who is wowed by Burt’s skills and the two pair up to become a magic double act. Expectations are of a heartwarming tale – two social misfits whose love of magic bonds them in spite of their surroundings, yadda yadda yadda then the happy ending.
Unfortunately, as soon as we’re taken into the present day, everything starts to fall apart.
Burt is now, frankly, an asshole and the friendship between the two is at breaking point when the act starts waning in popularity due to ‘extreme’ magicians appearing on the scene. There’s no subtlety in who they’re portraying, to the point where David Copperfield cameos and Criss Angel is an advisor on the film, which probably stops the filmmakers from taking too many swipes. By this point, despite decent performances by everyone involved, Burt is unlikable, Anton is out of the picture and Jim Carrey’s ‘Steve Gray’ is obviously the villain of the piece. The only person to side with is Jane (Olivia Wilde) who comes and goes, and isn’t considered an important enough character to make the poster.
Obviously there’s a path to redemption story taking place, but there’s not enough excitement or laughs to keep things interesting. If you know how a movie ends within the first 15 minutes, it has to be a great trip to get to the inevitable conclusion. There’s a huge opportunity to take things above and beyond anything realistic, in the sense that ‘Dodgeball’ pushes the envelope on how important a game nobody plays is, but ‘The Incredible Burt Wonderstone’ doesn’t really go there. Beyond the ‘Brain Rapist Steve Gray’ tricks, which generally involve a gross out scene which gives Carrey the opportunity to be his wacky self again, everything seems a bit grounded and stale.
So, despite the potential for a really fun, silly movie, we’re left with a great cast putting on a good performance of a lacking script. With the recent, sad passing of James Gandolfini, it’s a shame that one of his last films is a bit of a dud. It’s hard to be unbiased in the appraisal of his performance, but it’s fair to say that Gandolfini’s screen time is definitely among the more entertaining sequences, but he’s only a minor character and doesn’t appear that often. There will undoubtedly be worse comedies released this year, and fans of the cast might take something away (like Will Ferrell, Steve Carrell is capable of doing a lot with poor source material), but Burt Wonderstone is just a bit too average to be memorable, and that’s a pity.
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