Nothing magical about 'Incredible Burt Wonderstone'

This undated publicity photo released by Warner Bros. Pictures shows Steve Buscemi, left, as Anton Marvelton and and Steve Carell, as Burt Wonderstone, in New Line Cinemas comedy The Incredible Burt Wonderstone, a Warner Bros. Pictures release. The Steve Carell magician comedy will kick off the annual South by Southwest film festival in Austin, Texas. It was announced Tuesday, Jan. 15, 2013, that the film will premiere as the opening night film on March 8. (AP Photo, Warner Bros. Pictures, John P. Johnson)
This undated publicity photo released by Warner Bros. Pictures shows Steve Buscemi, left, as Anton Marvelton and and Steve Carell, as Burt Wonderstone, in New Line Cinemas comedy The Incredible Burt Wonderstone, a Warner Bros. Pictures release. The Steve Carell magician comedy will kick off the annual South by Southwest film festival in Austin, Texas. It was announced Tuesday, Jan. 15, 2013, that the film will premiere as the opening night film on March 8. (AP Photo, Warner Bros. Pictures, John P. Johnson) (ASSOCIATED PRESS)
Posted: March 15, 2013

STEVE CARELL and Jim Carrey, Evan and Bruce Almighty, respectively, could have used some divine intervention in their new joint venture.

It's called "The Incredible Burt Wonderstone," a comedy about dueling magicians that's several rewrites short of magical.

Carell has the title role as a Vegas schlock magician, and his performance is mostly a sight gag - his stocky form filling out a sequined velvet jumpsuit, blown-out Wayne Newton hair, David Copperfield eyeliner.

He's sketched as a magician whose genuine love for the craft was formed in childhood, though by middle age he's become angry, vain and pompous.

So, he's a loud and angry jerk, and this is not a good look for Carell, who specializes in a different sort of fellow - under-equipped, over his head, bluffing his way through in a way that earns our sympathy.

As a Vegas swordsman and ladies man with a garish high-rise love lair (Olivia Wilde is ill-used here), the erstwhile 40-year-old virgin is a hard sell.

So is Burt's act, which gets tired, and when a new-generation magician (Carrey) arrives, the casino boss (James Gandolfini) throws Burt over.

There is the germ of a great idea here - a potential rivalry between a classicist/craftsman and a viral "mind raper" whose pompous "art" comprises little more than self-mutilating stunts.

Here, "Wonderstone" seems to want to say something about the direction of our culture (particularly as an analogue to movies), but the idea lapses, and the movie settles for rubber-faced Carrey screaming on a bed of hot coals.

The movie isn't empty of laughs. Carrey and Carell square off at a children's party in a lowbrow comic riff on "The Prestige," and it works.

But it could have been so much better. You get a sense of it in the performance of Alan Arkin, playing a retired old-school magician who shows up as Burt's mentor and conscience.

By the way, this movie was much better, a few years ago, as "The Great Buck Howard," featuring the great John Malkovich as a Kreskin-like figure, unaware of or unconcerned by his diminished star stature.

Check it out, and compare.


Blog: philly.com/KeepItReel

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