Friday, March 15, 2013

Review: The Incredible Burt Wonderstone (2013)

The Incredible Burt Wonderstone (2013)

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I was bored for most of the length of The Incredible Burt Wonderstone, and for a movie billed as a comedy, that is practically a kiss of death. Most of the gags fell flat, the film had little sense of comedic timing or pacing, and talented actors like Steve Buscemi and Olivia Wilde were wasted. Only Jim Carrey's "street magician" Steve Gray gave me the will to keep going through to the end.

The biggest killer for this film is that I just could not get seriously invested in any of the characters, meaning that there were never any stakes to the events on-screen. Burt's transformation from a bullied young boy to an amazing Vegas headliner twenty years later to a boorish, egotistical Vegas headliner in the present all happens in the prologue, meaning that we've been barely introduced to Burt when he's abusing his partner Anton and his lovely assistant Nicole. Steve Carell tries his best, but I just could not bring myself to like Burt as a character or as a human being. His fall from grace felt less tragic and more like just desserts for an asshole. Steve Buscemi's Anton is a much better character, but he disappears for much of the second act to do charity work in Cambodia (one of the film's few legitimately funny moments, satirizing clueless celebrity activism), while Olivia Wilde's Jane is reduced to a one-dimensional love interest for Burt. Even Alan Arkin as the retired magician Rance Holloway came off as a bore, given little to do beyond act as a plot coupon for Burt's journey of redemption. These people should've had better arcs in order to liven up the film a bit.

I could've forgiven this if the film was funny, but for the most part, it isn't. Set pieces like the "Hot Box" scene, where Burt and Anton try to imitate one of Steve Gray's stunts to disastrous effect, had me stone-faced. The director and writer here are unable to make most of their gags work, thanks to an awful grasp of comedic timing. They seem to think that merely setting up ridiculous situations for the characters is enough to get laughs out of the audience, but to do that, you have to make an actual joke first. At times, I felt like I was watching a Seltzer and Friedberg "reference movie", only without the pop culture references.

However, I did say "for the most part", and the one exception to this film's lack of laughs was Jim Carrey as Steve Gray. A send-up of Criss Angel and David Blaine who partakes in insane, life-threatening stunts that make you wonder if he's simply insane, Steve Gray is by far the funniest thing in this film, reminding viewers of the Ace Ventura/Dumb and Dumber days when Carrey was rightly viewed as a comic god. Carrey's overshadowing the rest of the cast makes for some nice thematic resonance, given that the plot is about Steve Gray overshadowing Burt and Anton as Vegas' hottest new magician. And sure enough, throughout the film I wanted to see more of Carrey and less of Carell. He takes the crappy material and, somehow, makes it work with his physical style. Here's hoping that this is the beginning of a career revival for him after his run of bad films in the last few years; I am more keen on seeing Kick-Ass 2 now that I've seen that he can still be gut-bustingly hilarious.

Score: 2 out of 5

Only barely redeemed by Jim Carrey's funniest performance in years, The Incredible Burt Wonderstone feels like a pale imitation of Will Ferrell's better movies. Wait for cable or Netflix.

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