Magicians are masters only of illusion. The real magic relies on making their audience believe they’re having a good time.
“The Incredible Burt Wonderstone” manages to make us laugh a few times, but leaves us uninspired both by the performances and the magic performed in the film.
Burt Wonderstone (Steve Carell) and his partner Anton (Steve Buscemi) are Las Vegas magicians headlining their own show, “The Incredible Burt Wonderstone and Anton Marvelton.” Their show is successful and they perform to full crowds. This allows Burt to lead a lavish lifestyle which includes a hotel suite, a different girl every night and a bed so large if the phone rings on the opposite side he won’t reach it in time. However, their audience attendance begins to decline when a street magician named Steve Gray (Jim Carrey) performs dangerous stunts and becomes the magician everyone would rather see.
The highlight of the film was seeing how much Carrey’s character paralleled a real life street magician known for his risky tricks. Gray’s TV show, “Brain Rapist,” had him hold his urine for 12 days, sleep on hot coals for an entire night and keep his eyes open for three days while they were doused with pepper spray. Carrey’s performance wasn’t his best but it certainly outshone Carell’s.
Carell, known for playing the narcissistic boss on “The Office,” seemed well casted to play a womanizing spendthrift with delusions of grandeur but his performance fell flat most of the time. His monotonically delivered pick up lines worked for a while before they became too stiff for such a flamboyantly dressed character, i.e.: “I think we should sleep together now.”
However, he managed to soften his bravado towards the end with shared scenes with his “Little Miss Sunshine” co-star Alan Arkin who played Rance Holloway, the magician whose magic toy set inspired Burt to follow the same career path. Rance tells Burt he has to “dazzle people, not put them to sleep.” Unfortunately, neither the acting nor the actual magic performances managed to dazzle.
Throughout the film we see a few card tricks, coins appearing behind people’s ears and animals popping out of a few unusual places, but nothing gives us that sense of wonder as Burt had as a child when he saw Rance on TV for the first time. Except for Burt and Anton’s Hangman trick in the beginning of the film, all of the performances seemed unimaginative.
The film did manage a few laughs, however. Carrey’s manic approach to acting made his character enjoyable to watch every time he appeared on screen. Buscemi had his comedic moments, as well, particularly during a screaming match with Carell’s character after a stunt went wrong.
When Burt prepares for a comeback, Rance tells him he has to find “that sense of awe that makes you believe anything in the universe is real.” Unfortunately, the film never inspires that same sense in us and leaves us feeling letdown for believing in the first place.