Thursday, May 24, 2018
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‘The Incredible Burt Wonderstone' fails to pull a rabbit out of its hat

The coiffures. The costumes. The cheesiness.

If anyone is rife for comedic ribbing it's the Las Vegas magician.

Having lived in Las Vegas for a number of years and interviewed numerous "illusionists," as they prefer to be called, I know.

That's why I also know that The Incredible Burt Wonderstone is not that comedy. Certainly not the kind of comedy it could have been and should have been. Especially with Steve Carrell and Steve Buscemi cast as a Siegfried & Roy-inspired act and Jim Carrey as their pushy antagonist, an up-and-coming extreme magician, ala Criss Angel and David Blaine.

The Incredible Burt Wonderstone features Carrell and Buscemi as Burt Wonderstone and Anton Marvelton, onstage partners and lifelong friends, bonded in elementary school by bullies and a shared love of magic. They are the star attraction at Ballys hotel-casino, owned by Doug Munny (James Gandolfini), performing nightly to sold-out audiences. But after more than a decade of the same shtick, tricks, and introduction song, Steve Miller's "Abracadabra," Burt has grown bored with the show and lashes out at everyone, including Anton. His life is a revolving door of magician assistants named "Nicole" and female audience conquests, which he rewards the next morning with a staged autographed photo keepsake.

As Burt goes through the motions on and offstage, he meets the future of his profession in a cocky younger magician named Steve Gray (Carrey). Gray has a popular cable show, Mind Rape, and is drawing Las Vegas street crowds with his extreme and aggressive magic. One stunt involves being punched in the face by an audience member and then slicing open his newly swollen red cheek as part of an edgy card trick.

Burt dismisses Steve's antics, but he cannot ignore the diminishing crowds to his own show. A falling out with Anton after a failed extreme magic stunt of their own ends their partnership and topples Burt into a crisis. He's fired from the casino and forced to give up his lavish suite, only to discover he's broke, which necessitates him moving into a dumpy hotel room and performing magic at a neighborhood discount store.

Through the help of his childhood idol, the long-retired magician Rance Holloway (Alan Arkin), and a former magician's assistant (Olivia Wilde) Burt turns his life around and rededicates himself to his first love. His goal then is to beat out his magical nemesis Steve as the star attraction in Doug's new casino. The cast also features comedy support by Jay Mohr and German comic-actor Michael Herbig as one-joke characters, a pair of struggling Las Vegas illusionists, a cameo by Brad Garrett as Burt's accountant, and David Copperfield as himself.

The Incredible Burt Wonderstone was written by Jonathan M. Goldstein and John Francis Daley, who co-wrote 2011's summer hit Horrible Bosses, an edgy comedy that reveled in its lack of the conventional. In comparison, The Incredible Burt Wonderstone can only be viewed as a regression. Their rudimentary script unfolds like pages from a Syd Field screenwriting manual, complete with requisite beats in plot, character development and motive, and an upbeat finale as predictable as the illusions onstage.

While enamored with the obvious jokes in their send-up of Las Vegas magicians, Goldstein and Daley miss out on unexplored territory ripe for a good spoof: that the magicians prefer to be called illusionists, for example, or even something as obscure as the persistent rumors in Las Vegas circles that Roy Horn is actually Roy 2.0, a near-clone replacement of Siegfried's original partner who alledgedly died of AIDs complications in the late 1980s.

That The Incredible Burt Wonderstone can be quite funny at times is a testament to Carrell, Buscemi, and Carrey, who have a grand time onscreen channeling the flamboyant and quirky charms of old-school Las Vegas illusionists and the punky new wave of self-promotional stunt magicians. But even this comedic triumvirate cannot prevent the script's biggest feat of magic: making the laughs disappear.

Contact Kirk Baird at or 419-724-6734.

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