Movie Review – The Incredible Burt Wonderstone (2013)

The Incredible Burt Wonderstone, 2013

Directed by Don Scardino
Starring Steve Carell, Steve Buscemi, Jim Carrey, Olivia Wilde and Alan Arkin


When a street magician’s stunt begins to make their show look stale, superstar magicians Burt Wonderstone and Anton Marvelton look to salvage on their act – and their friendship – by staging their own daring stunt.

Anchorman has a lot to answer for. While it’s undoubtedly a funny movie, it’s almost given the all-clear for comedies to have an unlikeable lead character that you can at least laugh at because he says funny things.

But unlike Anchorman, at its very core the main problem with The Incredible Burt Wonderstone is that Wonderstone simply isn’t a strong enough character to carry the movie. He has a few good lines here and there and some of his characteristics are humorous, but he’s not funny enough to move the film past anything other than ‘okay’. He’s an egotistical, misogynistic dimwit that I found very difficult to get on with. Even though he goes through the inevitable character development, I can’t help but feel that the movie would have worked better if he’d been just a touch more likeable.

The movie essentially works as old school stage magic versus modern day street tricks with Burt Wonderstone and Anton Marvelton’s show getting less and less traction from the audience as people start to tune into newcomer Steve Gray’s unique brand of magic, which includes holding in his urine for a week, sleeping on a bed of hot coals and hiding cards inside of his cheek. With strains on the duo’s working relationship (due to Wonderstone’s ego), the pair fall apart and Wonderstone is reduced to nothing but a penniless has been, seeking help from retired magician Rance Holloway to find his spark again.

Jim Carrey’s Steve Gray is easily the highlight of the movie and as someone who loved Carrey’s string of 90s comedy hits, it’s wonderful to see him back at his best. The character may be a pastiche of David Blaine 10 years too late, but you can almost see the Ace Ventura glint in Carrey’s eye as he revels in playing the bad guy. Had Wonderstone been a more likeable character, he would have been the perfect antagonist.

Being a massive fan of Airheads, I was expecting more from Steve Buscemi as the supporting Anton Marvelton but he is sadly mis-represented here with a script that doesn’t really give him much to chew on. His role is to simply provide Wonderstone with some character development which means he’s only in the movie for about half an hour with nothing more than a few funny lines. The film actually could have survived without the character.

The Incredible Burt Wonderstone does hold up for a good portion of the run time but runs out of steam towards the third act and the climax isn’t overly satisfying – even if it does lead to some good visual gags. Because of its simple plot, it’s very much ‘square peg in square hole’ which means you’ll telegraph where the film is heading (I wouldn’t necessarily say that’s a bad thing however). I would have liked to have seen more Steve Gray as he was the best thing in the movie, but feel that he was best left in the role that he was – just popping up from time to time to remind you of the movie’s theme, do something wacky and leave again.

While it does sound like being incredibly negative on the movie, I actually did enjoy The Incredible Burt Wonderstone. Quite a lot actually. There are a lot of laugh out loud moments, it’s very charming and there are some great spoofs of the Las Vegas entertainment lifestyle including a superb comedic performance from James Gandolfini. When Carell needs to deliver a good line he does and he does the best he can with the weak character. The story may be easy to predict, but it’s a fun ride with some very enjoyable set pieces and while the love story between Wonderstone and assistant Jane incredibly forced, it does lead to a few sweet moments.

I would never recommend that people drop everything to run out and see The Incredible Burt Wonderstone as it will never be anything more than a ★ ★ ★ movie, but if you’re offered a chance to see it you won’t leave the cinema feeling short changed. It’s certainly not the best comedy you’ll see this year, but it probably won’t be the worst either. It’s worth watching just to see Carrey back at his scenery chewing best.

Flickering Myth Rating: Film ★ ★   / Movie ★ ★ ★

Luke Owen is one of the co-editors of Flickering Myth and the host of the Flickering Myth Podcast. You can follow him on Twitter @CGLuke_o.

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