Film review: THE INCREDIBLE BURT WONDERSTONE, from Built For Speed

The Incredible Burt Wonderstone is a disappointingly lacklustre comedy that, despite the presence of two comedy giants, Steve Carell and Jim Carey, raises only a smattering of laughs.

In this film, Steve Carell is essentially the same character we have seen in countless Ben Stiller and Will Ferrell movies, the decent guy transformed by fame into a vain petulant weirdo who loses everything before rediscovering his roots.

Carell plays Burt Wonderstone an outrageously silly Vegas magician who performs a double act with a childhood friend now known as Anton Marvelton (Steve Buschemi). The duo have ruled the Vegas strip for years but their act, much like their billowing 80’s hairstyles, is starting to look tired and ridiculous.  Like Ben Stiller in Zoolander’s brutal male modelling world, the self-proclaimed king of magic, Wonderstone, soon finds his crown under threat from young upstart Steve Gray (Jim Carey). Gray’s act mainly involves torturing himself and he has a rock roll look and brashness that recall magic superstars like Chris Angel.  Already delusional about the quality of his cornball act and his appeal as a human being, Wonderstone responds to the challenge by alienating everyone around him, destroying his partnership with Marvelton and descending into the abyss of playing kids parties and retirement homes.  A chance for redemption arrives when casino boss Doug Munny (James Gandolfini) announces a magic contest in which the winning act will secure a five year contract at his new casino.

Not even Steve Carell’s oddball charm can enliven this film’s dull and predictable storyline. He elicits a few laughs through his typical crazed logic, bumbling wide-eyed naiveté and general quirkiness but there’s little here that would qualify as memorable comedy.  Similarly, Jim Carey’s one joke character gets old very quickly as he indulges in some appallingly simple-minded gags even, at one point, drilling a hole in his head for absolutely no comic effect. You have to wonder what’s going on in a film where James Gandolfini scores more laughs than the two comic leads.

Olivia Wilde adds some life to proceedings as the obligatory stunning love interest who, in the film’s greatest feat of magic, falls for the older and infinitely less attractive Wonderstone.  The ubiquitous Alan Arkin is vaguely amusing as Carell’s Mr Miyagi-like mentor but he is unlikely to count this among his proudest cinema achievements.  Oddly, Steve Buschemi is sidelined for much of the film and doesn’t have the chance to make an impression.

Like Ricky Gervais, Steve Carell’s transition from hit TV comedy to big screen lead has been a really shaky one.  Let’s hope he doesn’t ruin his legacy with too many duds like this.


Nick’s rating: Two stars.

Classification: M

Director(s): Don Scardino

Release date: 14th Mar 2013

Running time:  100 mins.


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