Saturday, March 16, 2013

Review: The Incredible Burt Wonderstone

Who doesn’t love a comeback, right?  I guess that’s why we have so many stories of redemption put to print and screen.  Blood and guts, sweat and tears, gut busting laughter – whatever the packaging the plot mechanisms remain the same: a meteoric rise to the top, out right acts of hubris, a disgraceful descent into ruin, and after the appropriate amount of suffering a return to top form with a newfound sense of humility.  Take a look at your Nook, your iTunes, and at your DVD shelf and you will see that paradigm all over the place.  Its latest big screen incarnation comes wrapped in the magical packaging in The Incredible Burt Wonderstone.

The movie follows Steve Carell’s Burt as he goes from bullied child in grade school to the pinnacle of the magic world as a headliner at Bally’s in Las Vegas.  Along for the ride is his childhood friend and fellow magician Anton (Steve Buscemi).  But after years of working together performing the same routine day in and day out and living a life of excess, the two magicians lose their popularity and have a falling out.  The movie goes on to detail how Carell’s Burt deals with his plight and his attempt to recapture that former magic.

Going into this movie, you know two things: that the movie is not going to be a cinematic masterpiece; and exactly where the plot is going to take you.  So I am not going to tell you about the cinematography, the directing, and the level of believability.  None of that matters here and people who say otherwise are cinema snobs.  The only thing you really need to know is whether writers Jonathan Goldstein and Jon Francis Daley can make you laugh with the inevitable slew of punch lines aimed at Criss Angel, David Copperfield, Siegfried and Roy, et al.  And the answer to that question is…a bit.

I went into the movie with tepid expectations even though the cast is littered with some very funny acting talent.  Carell, Buscemi, and Carrey each on their own are capable of delivering an entire film’s worth of laughs so the prospects of the three of them together made me wonder if this would be to the world of magic what Anchorman is to television journalism.  Still, given the release date and WBs recent track record (very poor), I had the feeling this one would be quite forgettable.  Judging by the sparse crowd for 7 PM on a Friday night, I wasn’t the only one who felt this way.

So much of the film feels pedestrian.  The plot really doesn’t matter much as ninety percent of the movie feels like filler between the occasional big gag, some of which are quite funny.  In this way, I liken most of the narrative to commercials that run during sporting events.  You sit tolerate them until the action starts.  Needless to say, this is not a ringing endorsement for the film.  There are however a few times when the comedic bits make the down time worthwhile but that is more the exception than the rule.  More often than not, the gags fall short of the mark - especially Jim Carrey’s.  Clearly his role in this movie is to deliver a series of grotesque sight gags that get played out very early on.

On the opposite end of the spectrum from Carrey is Alan Arkin, as retired magician Rance Holloway.  If it feels like he is the only one really trying in this movie, it’s because he probably was.  He’s the moral conscience of the film, but at the same time he is incredibly funny.  Arkin’s an absolute pro and that especially shows opposite some of his underperforming cast mates.  If Steve Carell could have bottled some of that magic, this film might have been a letter grade higher, but Carell doesn’t give you anything you haven’t already seen in The Office or Get Smart

As for the rest of the cast, Buscemi is mostly window dressing and never gets to stretch his chops in this movie, which is disappointing.  When he is on his comedic game, he can steal the show.  James Gandolfini, Jay Mohr, and Brad Garrett are in this movie, but probably dropped their funniest lines on the way to cashing their paychecks. And as for Olivia Wilde, I am not always the biggest fan of her work, but I found her character in this movie very likable.  It was a nice turn for the actress.

I am going to be frank and tell you that there is no way you should pay to see this movie – not at the cinema, not at as a purchase, and not at a Red Box kiosk.  You will regret every single penny spilled.  At best it’s a middle-of-the-queue Netflix movie, but probably better left to a random viewing on HBO, Starz, or MAX.  With low expectations and little investment, you will probably appreciate the humor a bit more.  This is a movie that could have been better, but it also could have been worst.  So take it for what it is and you’ll probably achieve the best entertainment value.

Standout Performance: Alan Arkin.  He is the best of the cast hands down.


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