Steve Carell is a funny guy, and he has starred in plenty of great movies. Unfortunately, The Incredible Burt Wonderstone is not one of them. The premise sounds entertaining, as do most of the scenes, in theory. Eager as the audience may be to enjoy that, even with the solid cast this story falls flat.
Burt Wonderstone (Steve Carell) and Anton Marvelton (Steve Buscemi) are two pals who have been practicing magic since their nerdy elementary school days. But like their friendship, their stage act has gone stale. Burt is more interested in lazily wooing attractive audience members than maintaining his friendship with Anton, who has grown tired of it all.
In addition to this, they find themselves competing with the Vegas Strip’s latest obsession, Steve Gray (Jim Carrey). Steve’s brand of magic involves sleeping on hot coals and having audience members punch him in the face. It isn’t exactly mesmerizing, but apparently he is shooting for cheap thrills. An over-the-top, obliviously confident maniac sounds like an ideal role for Carrey to tackle. Admittedly, he does this predictably well, though it borders on uncomfortable.
More importantly though, Steve Gray fails to present an intimidating antagonist. No one is too threatened by a lunatic who’s greatest trick is drilling a hole in his own body, so this presents no real roadblock for Burt. We are therefore left to wonder what the big obstacle is. Is it Burt’s materialistic, vain behaviour? Maybe it is his failed friendship, or even his tentative romance with the pretty Jane (Olivia Wilde).
Wilde is lovely as Burt’s love interest. She is the quiet moral compass, disappearing for vast portions of the movie and conveniently reappearing when Burt needs a push in the right direction. As for whether or not Burt accepts her wisdom is another story. Wilde is a highlight, and they would have been well-served to include more of her.
There is a scene where Burt is sitting across from his friend and almost unintelligibly baring his soul. It is arguably the most humorous part of the movie, and a subtle reminder that Carell can be hilarious when given the chance. Awkwardness and dry, blank stares are some of his charming trademarks, but they are not enough to save this sluggishly paced plot.
It seems suggested that Burt must remember why he loved magic in the first place to accomplish his goals. Perhaps it is up for debate as to whether or not the ending recognizes this, but it is hardly satisfying. The confused story wanders all over the place, until the final “trick” of making the audience disappear is downright ironic.
The Incredible Burt Wonderstone is currently playing in theatres nationwide, though if you’re looking for laughs you may want to look elsewhere.