Saturday, March 30, 2013

THE INCREDIBLE BURT WONDERSTONE (2013)

Written by John Francis Daley & Jonathan Goldstein


Directed by Don Scardino


Where & When: Arclight Cinemas, Hollywood, CA  March 18, 2013 6:00PM


Who doesn't love a magician?

With their ability to captivate audiences as they seemingly defy gravity, amaze with spectacular optical illusions and razzle-dazzle their shows in flashy costumes, magicians appear perfect to build an entertaining film around.

"The Incredible Burt Wonderstone", a surprisingly limp comedy which stars Steve Carrell as the title character, an old-school Las Vegas illusionist who has fallen out of favor as an edgy, street magician (played with gusto by Jim Carrey) uses dangerous stunts to draw in crowds.This should have been a lot of fun considering the top comedic talent attached but the film fails to conjure up many laughs.

As a little boy, Burt was unpopular and bullied but one day, he receives as a birthday present that changes his life. The gift is a Rance Holloway magic kit and after watching the master magician's instructions (played by Alan Arkin) on a VHS tape, Burt develops a skill for performing tricks. Unfortunately, this doesn't help make him more popular but he does make a new friend, Anton Marvelton, a fellow outsider and together they work on creating their own illusions.

Years later, the two have become a successful magic act; The Incredible Burt (Carrell) and The Marvelous Anton (Steve Buscemi) performing on the Vegas strip in a casino run by Doug Munny (James Gandolfini). While Anton has remained down to Earth, Burt has become an egotistical, self-centered monster. After another stage assistant quits in disgust due to Burt's boorish behavior, he simply pulls Jane (Olivia Wilde), a production assistant, to fill the costume.

As the duo suffers from career boredom, petty squabbling and a dwindling audience, they discover that Steve Gray (Carrey) is the changing face of illusionists as he uses shocking, gross-out theatrics to entertain. Despite Anton's attempt to come up with a trick to help make their show seem hip, Burt remains delusional and uncooperative which causes them to split-up. Unable to make his solo act work and fired from the casino, Burt winds up performing tricks at a local nursing home where he discovers his childhood idol, Rance Holloway resides. The master magician only seems to be there to remind Burt why he loved sawing a lovely lady in half in the first place.

The director, Don Scardino (as well as the writers of the script) comes from situation comedies which explains part of the problem with "Burt Wonderstone" as the plot feels disjointed with many scenes rushed as if they were making room for commercials. It doesn't help that most of the stale jokes would even be rejected for a sitcom. However, Mr. Scardino has directed many episodes of one of my favorite television programs, "30 Rock" a highly manic and clever comedy with the humor flying at such a fast clip that it's hard to catch your breath. So it's hard to understand what happened to this film as it lacks coherence and the energy drags.

Buried under an unflattering bouffant of bottle-blond hair and sequined pantsuits, Mr. Carrell attempts to reshape his well-known screen persona of a tightly-wound, nice-guy to play a pompous, womanizing wind-bag but it's not a really a comfortable fit. The actor seems restricted as he's unsure how to make The Incredible Burt believable (or funny) as he goes quickly from obnoxious jerk to a somewhat more enlightened individual. The supporting performers are unable to shine as they're not given much to do beyond reacting to the dueling magicians, so it should be no surprise that Jim Carrey is the highlight in this comedy. Although his appearance is brief, he manages to deliver the few laughs available as his Steve Gray, (a Cris Angel/ David Blaine mash-up) is willing to do anything to his body, no matter how extreme or insane, to accomplish the ultimate illusion.

A broad comedy like, "Anchorman" (which helped propel Steve Carrell in to the spotlight) took us in to the world of warring news anchors and delivered some unexpected comic gold and "The Incredible Burt Wonderstone" where the battle between the glitzy, over-the-top showmanship of magicians of the past against the edgy, rock-n-roll style of today's performers seems full of promise and should have been able provide some truly funny moments. Unfortunately, this film is formulaic and not fully realized. By the time we finally reach the wan conclusion, Poof! "The Incredible Burt Wonderstone" has completely disappeared from memory.