Sunday, March 17, 2013

Underwhelming: Burt Wonderstone is boring and tricked me out of my money.

Movie Review: The Incredible Burt Wonderstone

Director: Don Scardino

Reviewed: 17 March 2013

jamesintexas rating--*

My only requirement in a comedy is that it make me laugh.  Whether that is achieved through complete stupidity of performer or scene ("Dumb and Dumber") or profane ad-libbing ("The 40 Year Old Virgin") or through sheer audacity and boldness ("Borat"), I do not care.  When I go to a comedy, I want to laugh, pure and simple.  And there's the rub with "The Incredible Burt Wonderstone," a great title for a film.  The film and its lead performance from Steve Carell are not incredible, and it did not make me laugh.  A film about magicians in Las Vegas with two of the funniest actors of our time did not make me laugh.

After years of magic, childhood friends Burt and Anton (Carell and Steve Buscemi) have grown tired of their Vegas act and of each other.  Sensation Steve Gray (Jim Carrey) appears on the street and dazzles their crowds and their boss with his hard-core street magic, which consists of pain and self-flagellation.  To match Gray's energy, the pair envision a fresh trick, and when the stunt goes awry, the pair break their friendship and separate.  The remainder of the film chronicles the clumsy road back for Wonderstone, as he finds a mentor and becomes one.

TV veteran director Don Scardino has constructed a series of scenes that strung together do not make a complete film.  There is too much going on in this film: the bizarre myopia of Burt who seems to have never wandered out of his Las Vegas Strip hotel; the childlike, loyal partner in magic Anton Marvelton; the buff, thrill-seeking new wave of magician unafraid to bloody or burn his body, Steve Gray; and on and on and on.  Throw in supporting work by Alan Arkin, James Gandolfini, and Olivia Wilde, and the film is brimming with talent.

Yet, it does not work.  The decision to make Burt so unlikeable and without good reason injures the story.  Burt wanders through early scenes, jaded and passionless, but we never see why.  Carell's charm is nonexistent here as a result.  Characters emphasize the importance of old school magic through aphorisms delivered over and over again, yet when it comes time to do real magic in the film, Scardino uses CGI in key moments, undermining the film's own message.  The film careens from scene to scene with little linking it together, and rarely does the film use its Las Vegas backdrop well.  In terms of satirizing a certain kind of stale Las Vegas performer, the film lacks teeth and refuses to go darker than a few booze-fueled conversations between lower-echelon performers at a bar.  Jim Carrey's scene-stealing work as Gray is limited to only a few scenes, and though they all do not work, his ferocious commitment to his character brought most of the rare laughs for me.  Carrey dazzles as a showman with little regard for his own safety.  However, his character fluctuates wildly from scene to scene: nefarious villain to bizarre misanthrope to reckless performance artist.  In truth, Buscemi is the most fun to watch because of his silliness, and the film unwisely drops him for far too long.

I wish that the story was as meticulously constructed as Burt and Anton's costumes and hairstyles.  Everyone involved with "The Incredible Burt Wonderstone" tricked me because I had expectations of laughing and enjoying it, and those were dashed by this sloppy, unfunny film.

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