“I don’t have a problem,” says retired magician Rance Holloway (Alan Arkin), “but you do.” He’s talking to former Las Vegas headliner Burt Wonderstone (Steve Carell), whose magic act has just bombed at Peaceful Oasis Assisted Living. Burt and long-time stage partner Anton Marvelton (Steve Buscemi) have had a nasty break-up, and gone their separate ways. That’s the set-up for this mostly laugh-free comedy.
Will Burt and Anton reconcile? Does Burt fall for would-be magician Jane (Olivia Wilde)? Will you care about any of these characters? I didn’t.
Steve Carell is campy illusionist Burt Wonderstone who, with childhood best friend Anton Marvelton – Steve Buscemi – has played the same Las Vegas theater, named for them, for 10 years. Send-up’s of Siegfried and Roy – with outrageous hair-do’s and costumes – Burt and Anton, off-stage, quarrel about everything like an unhappy married couple. So they split up, and take off. Meanwhile, Olivia Wilde as wanna-be magician Jane, gives up on self-absorbed Burt. “You’re just a sad, pathetic shell of what you were,” she says. “I don’t want any part of you.” Nor do we. Carell’s Burt is an insensitive, pompous jerk. As Anton and Jane, Buscemi and Wilde are marginally likeable, but we don’t know enough about their characters to care.
Jim Carrey is competition as cable-tv, reality-show street magician Steve Gray, even more repellant than Burt. “I take people’s nightmares,” he says, smirking, “and turn them into dream realities” – holding his urine for 12 days, sleeping on hot coals, drilling a hole in his head. Others in the cast include James Gandolfini as clueless gazillionaire hotel-owner Doug Munny and Alan Arkin as the film’s only appealing character, elderly illusionist Rance Holloway, Burt’s childhood hero.
“The Incredible Burt Wonderstone” is tedious and witless, a lame comedy, almost plot-free and, until its attempt at a sappy, feel-good ending, mostly heartless. Directed by Don Scardino, from a script by Jonathan Goldstein, John Francis Daley, Chad Kultgen, and Tyler Mitchell, it’s a painful enterprise, best forgotten by fans of its talented cast. What were they thinking? A satire on over-the-top show business and gullible audiences? A male-bonding redemption story? A Will-Ferrell comedy homage? None of the above?
Rated PG-13 for sex, dangerous stunts, drugs, and language, it runs 100 minutes, but may seem longer. I’d avoid it and watch “The Prestige” (2006) or “The Illusionist” (2006), two much better stage magician movies.
Hammy “Burt Wonderstone,”
“Incredible,” he’s not,
A flick I’d leave alone –
Witless, lame jokes, no plot.