The Incredible Burt Wonderstone-attachment0

The Incredible Burt Wonderstone

Movie Information

The Story: A pair of Vegas magicians find themselves being upstaged by a nontraditional street performer. The Lowdown: Largely painless, but utterly mediocre and unnecessary.
Genre: Comedy
Director: Don Scardino
Starring: Steve Carell, Steve Buscemi, Olivia Wilde, Jim Carrey. Alan Arkin, James Gandolfini, Jay Mohr
Rated: PG-13

Put simply, The Incredible Burt Wonderstone isn’t. (And, boy, would I like to just leave the review at that.) Either despite or because of a cast of more or less big names, the film remains stubbornly mediocre without ever being actively awful. It’s stuck in this dreadful oily neutral of being almost virulently OK. When I had to talk about the film on the radio on Friday afternoon, I found myself stuck with “OK” in response to every question about any aspect of the movie and, ultimately, concluded that you don’t need to be convulsed with outright dread should circumstances require your attendance at a showing. I meant that to sound at least not completely discouraging, but it occurs to me now that it’s an idea more suited for a stint at the dentist than a trip to the movies. You really ought to get more out of going to a movie than simply not groaning about it — and that’s really the best you’re likely to get out of this one.

The central problem with Burt Wonderstone lies in the idea that it wants to be this really edgy comedy while retaining a gooey soft center of feel-goodery. I do not suppose that the two ideas are necessarily incompatible but, in this case, they are. The catch is that the film’s notions of edgy are mostly limited to filling the proceedings with characters who are either immensely unlikable, terminally stupid or both. It then expends a lot of time convincing you of how awful these people are — especially Steve Carell as the title character — and then wants you to like them without bothering to give you a reason to do so. Presumably, those responsible for this assume we bring enough goodwill toward the performers to carry the day. That raises the question — the very subjective question — of whether or not you have all that much goodwill stored up for anyone involved. I don’t.

The premise could have worked: A couple of flashy Vegas magicians — Burt Wonderstone and Anton Marvelton (Steve Buscemi) — find they must reinvent themselves when they are upstaged by a new breed of masochistic stunt performers. But it constantly goes awry or bogs itself down. It does help the film’s approach that new-kid-on-the-block, street “magician” Steve Gray (Jim Carrey), is even more loathsome than Wonderstone, but all that really offers is a lesser evil. Dragging in the old wheeze of Burt’s ego and causing his partner to walk out on him is, I guess, interesting to collectors of clichés and those who bemoan the passing of the days of Martin and Lewis. But none of this ever adds up to more than a few random chuckles, an almost complete lack of character empathy and a climax so preposterous that it might have come from one of Adam Sandler’s worst excesses — or maybe Will Ferrell. The only remarkable thing is that it’s all somehow less obnoxious. That doesn’t make it any good. Rated PG-13 for sexual content, dangerous stunts, a drug-related incident and language.

Playing at Carmike 10, Carolina Cinemas, Epic of Hendersonville, Regal Biltomore Grande

About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress from December 2000 until his death in June 2016. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

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2 thoughts on “The Incredible Burt Wonderstone

  1. T REX

    I think I am the only person on the planet that likes this movie. Is it great? no, no, no, but its a lot of fun and a great way to take a break from reality. The middle does drag with the cliched “jerks finds his heart” middle part. If they could have kept Wonderstone a jerk the whole time it would have been a solid comedy. A lot of critics say that if a comedy makes you laugh at least six times than it works. I laughed more than six times.
    maybe I was just in the right mood.

  2. Ken Hanke

    If a comedy only makes you laugh six times over the space of 90+ minutes, it’s not much of a comedy, no matter what any critic claims. Hell, there’re more laughs than that in most dramas.

    But there are at least 60 critics on Rotten Tomatoes who liked this movie. (101 who don’t.)

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