Published Mar 14, 2013It all started in the suburbs back in 1982 with Albert — a nerd — celebrating his birthday alone, suffering the taunts of bullies and then arriving home to an empty house where he bakes his own cake.
His negligent mother did one thing right: she gave her son a Rance Holloway magic kit. The gift instantly sparks something in young Albert when he watches the accompanying VHS tape and hears the words, "Everyone loves a magician, and if you follow my instructions, they'll love you."
Fast-forward 30 years and Albert, now known as Burt Wonderstone (Steve Carell), and childhood friend Anton Marvelton (Steve Buscemi) have established a successful entertainment career, with their own theatre at Bally's Casino, run by Doug Munny (James Gandolfini).
Their act, labeled "A Magical Friendship," is the epitome of cheese: the men, wearing sequined velvet suits, gyrate against their female assistant, blurting out witticisms like, "Wait! We're here to do magic, not Nicole!" It's tired, formulaic and not as much about the craft as it is about picking up women from the audience.
Inevitably, this structure implodes and Bally's axes the show, which is an issue exacerbated by the addition of Steve Gray (Jim Carrey) — a street magician of the Criss Angel variety — to the magic scene. Gray's cable television show, "Brain Rape" (complete with twitter hash-tag #rapist), is defining the future of magic through extreme "reality" stunts and publicity, leaving no room for the glitzy Vegas showroom magic shows of yesteryear. The commentary on the modern preoccupation with perceived "reality" and success via sensationalist, instant gratification ethos is lost on no one.
As the formula dictates, it's all downhill for Burt from here. He begs David Copperfield for a job, performs tricks in a supermarket to sell paper towels and even seeks shelter with his former stagehand, Jane (Olivia Wilde). It isn't until Burt takes a job at a senior center as an entertainer and meets his boyhood hero, Rance Holloway (Alan Arkin), that he finds the spark to reignite his love of magic.
And as such, The Incredible Burt Wonderstone checks off its plot points, adding a second-lease, mid-life crisis bit of zest to what is essentially a series of funnier-than-average gags satirizing Las Vegas.
The structure of Siegfried & Roy/Penn & Teller knock-offs pitted against the Criss Angel/David Blaine figure is deliberate, repeatedly taking shots at the best (and worst) of what Vegas has offered us in recent years, which adds a bit of nostalgia and familiar zeal. Similarly, the characters are little more than archetypes, developed only to reflect the nature of an industry that is, for all intents and purposes, silly. This helps camp-up the tongue-in-cheek mockery aspect; we're meant to laugh, not learn a valuable life lesson.
There's something special about Wonderstone despite it being limited to the established mainstream comedy context. It makes funny the ongoing battle between the past and present, presenting a hilarious look at the exaggerated hyper-reality of consumer ethos while giving Jim Carrey an opportunity to show that he's still got some comedic chops.
It should also be noted that the funniest bits come during the final moments of the film. (Warner)