The Incredible Burt Wonderstone (2013), the latest comedy from New Line Cinema directed by Emmy Award winner Don Scardino and starring Steve Carell, Steve Buscemi, Olivia Wilde and Jim Carrey, though innocuous fun, lacks that indefinable ‘magic’ ingredient to make it ‘wonderful’.
Megastar magicians Burt Wonderstone (Carell) and Anton Marvelton (Buscemi) have been drawing the crowds to their show on the legendary Las Vegas Strip for so many years that they now seem like a part of the furniture – and almost as wooden! After their show is axed by casino mogul Doug Munny (James Gandolfini) the duo struggle to come to terms with a new life of threatened obscurity, particularly with the appearance of new-kid-on-the-block Steve Gray (Carrey), a guerrilla street magician whose sole ambition is to obliterate all memory of the has-been double-act. Is it too late for Burt and Anton, with the help of hot new assistant Jane (Wilde), to rekindle their old magic, or are the once famous duo in danger of disappearing for good?
The lasting memory for anyone who has visited Las Vegas, the gambling Mecca which rises as if from nowhere in the middle of the Nevada desert, is of the sheer scale of a city which is twice as big (and twice as tacky) as everywhere else. A quality that makes it the perfect setting for The Incredible Burt Wonderstone, a film where every aspect is larger-than-life. From the glitzy setting of the Strip (Vegas’ main thoroughfare, here juxtaposed wonderfully with the seedier, down-at-heel side of ‘Sin City’ which lives cheek-to-jowl with its more affluent areas), to its over-the-top magic shows and the characters who perform them, this film goes large – big time!
But The Incredible Burt Wonderstone also has a simple, though blatant, defect. The central theme is clearly intended to revolve around Burt’s ego and his relationships, both professional and personal, with those he comes into contact with. What everyone really wants to see however is Jim Carrey and his typically hyper portrayal of the manic, streetwise trickster Steve. Carrey gives such a magnetic performance that, each time his character is offscreen, the viewer is left marking time until his character reappears. Carrey, along with Wilde and Buscemi, have what amount to little more than supporting roles alongside Carell for whom this film is clearly intended to be a star vehicle. However when the subsidiaries outshine the lead you know you’re in trouble.
That’s not to say that Carell isn’t good, it’s just that he lacks the charisma of Carrey who inevitably steals every scene he’s in with a typically hyper performance, laced with the unsettling intensity which has become his trademark. When Carell is centre-stage he often seems so lacklustre that you’re left wanting someone else to materialise if only to spice things up.
The proceedings as a whole are fun. Some of the tricks performed especially the climatic one incorporating an audience of several hundred people are genuinely impressive (mind-you you’d hope they’d be considering that real-life magician David Copperfield was consultant on the film), whilst the cast including Hollywood legends Gandolfini and Alan Arkin handle the proceedings more than competently. However the overall feeling is that the film lacks ‘spark’.
Like the illusions Burt and Anton perform there’s not a lot of substance beneath the surface of The Incredible Burt Wonderstone, its hot air and over-inflated showmanship inevitably making for a show which is quickly forgotten once the final curtain falls.