The Incredible Burt Wonderstone examines the interesting premise of traditional versus modern magic with a generous dusting of comedy, but with a weak plotline despite boasting a collective of writers including Horrible Bosses’ Jonathan M. Goldstein and John Francis Daley, will it eventually do a disappearing act into the background alongside a long list of comedy flops?
Wonderstone kicks off with the promising story of Burt as a young boy, bullied by the other kids and denied his mother’s time and attention. After he receives a magic kit promoted by world-renowned illusionist Rance Holloway (Alan Arkin), he soon makes a new friend in fellow loser Anton and together they practice and invent new tricks. Years later the two friends glisten on stage as cheesy Vegas act The Incredible Burt and Anton with the help of wannabe magician, Jane (Olivia Wilde). However, their headlining performance soon comes under threat from the rising stardom of street magician Steve Gray (Jim Carrey) and his bizarre acts of pain tolerance. Ignoring the entrepreneurial advice of level-headed sidekick Anton (Steve Buscemi) in favour of continuing his repetitive stage act, can egotistical and extravagant womaniser Burt (Steve Carell) win back his fame, fortune – and some integrity?
The plot of Wonderstone centres on traditional versus modern magic, satirising the work of the likes of Siegfried and Roy, David Copperfield (who makes a brief appearance), David Blaine and Dynamo. We see outdoor elevated platforms exposed to the sun, exercises in pain tolerance and of course some old school sword trickery and sleight of hand. This does deliver some genuine, fresh comedy, but unfortunately the plot itself is weak and predictable: vain, uncaring protagonist loses everything when he fails to see the error of his ways but comes good in the end. The story is layered with inconsistencies such as just how Anton managed to remain grounded while the fame went to Burt’s head. Whilst it is a nice idea that Burt must acquire the help of an ageing magician (expertly played by Arkin) to help him rediscover his childhood love of magic, the story needs a real dose of emotion to get it off ground. The film’s saving grace is the ending where the best trick is saved for last.
The usually brilliant Carell is not at his comedy best as the vain and arrogant Wonderstone. Whilst he still delivers his usual brand of straight-faced, sarcastic one-liners, the character is too stiff and soulless to allow him to shine. Similarly, despite all her efforts, Wilde’s character of Jane is flat and humdrum, lost within the sluggish story. However, topped by a nice cameo from the late, great James Gandolfini in one of his last performances, the remaining cast of comedy all-rounders are on top form. Carrey, always at his best when knee deep in lunacy, is hilarious as Steve Gray, asking if folks on the street ‘want to see some real magic’ as he sprays pepper into his eyes without blinking – and a whole lot worse. The most likeable and veracious character here is Buscemi’s Anton who brings a real warmth and charm to the story, though sadly his character is not explored enough to rescue the script from its crippling inconsistencies.
Wonderstone certainly has hilarious moments and it’s worth a watch for the cast, but like Burt’s talent for magic the plot needs an overhaul, making this film seem more Paul Daniels than Harry Houdini.