22 March 2013


Despite starring Steve Carell, and focusing on the world of stage magicians, The Incredible Burt Wonderstone bears a striking resemblance to any number of Will Ferrell sports movies. Talladega Nights, Blades Of Glory and Semi-Pro all centred around an egotistical superstar man-child, who checks himself when he suffers a serious knock back and ultimately regroups. Hell, even Anchorman followed that formula, though it arguably did it best.

The eponymous magician believes he's the main attraction in "The Incredible Burt and Anton: A Magical Friendship", a show he has performed at a top Vegas hotel for ten years straight, with his best friend and long-suffering co-star, Anton Marvelton. Even aside from the lost passion in their act, their audience is siphoned away by the headline-grabbing stunts of street magician and self-proclaimed "brain rapist", Steve Gray. Soon enough, Burt is forced to check his ego and freshen up his act in order for his career to survive.

Reviews have variously either claimed that this is a pile of dog shit, or that it's the funniest film since Anchorman. All comedy is subjective, but looking at what we're given, I'd say it's neither. That doesn't mean that it's unremarkable, either, but it's not exactly a Marmite movie. The Anchorman comparison is an interesting one, because although it's reminiscent of that film in its best moments, The Incredible Burt Wonderstone runs into a crucial problem of staging early, on- it's neither consistently deadpan nor balls-to-the-wall crazy.

This isn't a film in which everyone idolises Burt as much as he believes they do, but neither is it a film that puts Burt's relatively minor struggle in context. Instead, it tries to straddle both, bringing sporadic encounters with super-fans of the magical duo, along with numerous montages of how the audience is less interested in their more nostalgic set, than in the stunts of Steve Gray, played by a scene-stealing Jim Carrey. If the film ever planted both feet on one side or the other, this could've been one for the ages.

All the same, there's a lot to enjoy here, especially amongst the cast. Even if playing a Will Ferrell-style egomaniac is slightly against type for Steve Carell, he does a pretty good job of playing a sheltered, perma-tanned dolt. He's most enjoyable when playing against Steve Buscemi, whose role as Anton is far better than any of his inexplicable appearances in Adam Sandler movies. He has some neat comic timing, and he's the centre of a particularly funny skit in the second act. Alan Arkin is always delightful as the magician who inspired Burt and Anton when they were kids, and Olivia Wilde makes the most of another thinly constructed love interest, as one of a long line of glamorous assistants called "Nicole".

Jim Carrey deserves special mention, because all of the time that you're waiting for his slightly outdated pastiche of "extreme" street magicians to get old, his stunts continue to escalate in hilarity all the way through, right up to the audacious finale. All of this is managed without him actually distracting from the principals, and his role here shows how Carrey's brand of comedy could be more valuable as a supporting player than when he has to carry the movie, and bodes well for this summer's Kick-Ass 2. The script may flag between setpieces, but it's Carrey and the rest of the cast who keep it afloat.

The Incredible Burt Wonderstone could stand to be a lot sillier, because that would cover up some of the script's weaknesses nicely. As a story, it doesn't really hang together, and the hero is never more interesting than when he's interacting with one or more of the wacky supporting characters, despite Steve Carell's best efforts. Some of the best gags have already been revealed in the trailers, but the film still has a few laugh-out-loud tricks up its sleeve, firstly in how consistently funny Jim Carrey's performance is as a whole, but also in those enthusiastic bursts of ridiculousness that do shine through.

The Incredible Burt Wonderstone is still showing in cinemas nationwide.
If you've seen The Incredible Burt Wonderstone
, why not share your comments below? Why is there this Hollywood perception that kids who do magic are nerds? I know a guy who does magic, and he's awesome!

I'm Mark the mad prophet, and until next time, don't watch anything I wouldn't watch.

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