The Incredible Burt Wonderstone ***
Running Time 100 minutes
Directed by Don Scardino
Starring – Steve Carell, Jim Carrrey, Steve Buscemi, Olivia Wilde and Alan Arkin.
EVERYBODY loves magicians, don’t they? Well this reviewer certainly does and after seeing Don Scardino’s magically themed comedy it’s rekindled my love for the profession and brought back childhood memories of watching Paul Daniels on the television.
Scardino has worked mostly on American television, working on shows such as 30 Rock and Two Broke Girls makes his cinematic debut with this project, which features some real comedy a-listers such as Steve Carell and Jim Carrey. Times have been tough of late for Carrey, who has struggled to find a real comedic hit at the box-office in recent years. It feels like a long time since the days of Liar Liar and Me Myself & Irene for the actor when compared to his recent cinematic output.
The film’s plot is simple enough Carrell plays the aforementioned Burt Wonderstone, a Copperfield-esque magician, who along with his childhood friend Anton Marvelton (Steve Buscemi) have headlined the Las Vegas magician scene for over a decade.
But the arrival of Carrey’s riskier street magician, Steve Gray and his TV show The Brain Rapist on the circuit causes Wonderstone’s stardom to steadily wane, his act simply seen as too old-fashioned. With dwindling audiences Burt and Anton are dropped from their lucrative contracts by James Gandolfini’s ambitious hotel owner Douglas Munny, causing considerable friction between the two lifelong friends as they try to freshen up their act.
Washed up, homeless and his career seemingly in tatters Burt is forced to work in a retirement home for ageing entertainers, which puts him in touch with his childhood hero Rance Holloway, played by Alan Arkin. Holloway was the magician who first inspired Burt to take up the profession and Holloway helps him rediscover the love for his trade. Alan Arkin as always is simply superb in this small supporting role within the film, stealing the show from the film’s two seasoned comic leads.
Both Carrell and Carrey put in fine performances, with Carrey on trademark gurning form throughout and Carell’s send up of David Copperfield is pitched perfectly. Probably the film’s weakest link is Olivia Wilde’s character, the beautiful assistant to Burt and Anton with her own magical aspirations. Without wishing to sound sexiest, the actress just seemed a little too pretty to be believed as a woman who was bullied as a child for her love of magic.
Credit must be bestowed upon Scardino, the director competently handles his feature début and the film’s running time is spot on. He chooses not to let it drag over the two-hour mark and such it’s a much a tighter and snappier film for it.
There’s something Zoolander-esque about this film, sharing several similar plot elements with the film, notably the rivalry between the washed up superstar and his younger trendier upstart. While Scardino’s film doesn’t quite reach the levels of Ben Stiller’s 2001 classic, but like Zoolander it doesn’t take itself too seriously at all and it’s all the better for it.
Far from perfect and perhaps given the talent involved it could have been a lot funnier but there is still enough silliness going on onscreen to keep viewers entertained and justify the price of their cinema ticket. Like me many will be humming the tune of the Steve Miller Band’s annoyingly catchy tune Abracadabra for days afterwards.
Review By William McClean