Movie Review: THE INCREDIBLE BURT WONDERSTONE Is Sweet But Bland
The Incredible Burt Wonderstone is not a bad movie. It has charm, sincere heart, a handful of good performances, and a story just perfunctory and familiar enough to help the movie go down smooth and easy.
But it's not a very funny movie. This is a film smart enough to cast Steve Buscemi only to waste him on a boring straight man role. Even Adam Sandler knows better than that. I laughed twice. Both times were in anticipation of joke setups that ended up being way funnier in my head than in execution. Excluding one or two quick bits, pretty much all the good gags from this film are in the trailer.
Maybe that doesn't matter, though. Accepting that this is just a plain, feel-good film and not a comedy, and you have something almost worthwhile left over. No one should walk away loving The Incredible Burt Wonderstone, but it's not worth any outrage, either. The film isn't worth any energy, period.
The most damaging aspect of The Incredible Burt Wonderstone is Wonderstone himself. While I'm happy to see Steve Carell play something other than a sad sack for middle-aged women to go "awwww" over, this role limits him to basically playing a huge douchebag while his hair and fake tan do most of the acting. Carell speaks through an affected voice that occasionally seeks a little humor from odd pronunciations, but most of this falls flat. Wonderstone does become likable late in the film. Once that happens, Carell is more likable as well, and the film improves. But it comes way too late.
Buschemi is utterly wasted (this is worth repeating), as is Olivia Wilde, an actress I always expect to like more than I actually do. Alan Arkin and James Gandolfini both do better than normal work as side characters that help the film feel more interesting than it actually is. Arkin puts a lot more energy than usual into his role as an aged magician, while Gandolfini appears to lose his weird lisp for almost half the film for some reason. And though he's barely in it, the usually annoying Jay Mohr steals the couple of scenes he's in as a thoroughly awkward, low rent magician.
More than anyone, though, this film belongs to Jim Carrey as Steve Gray, a mixture of Chriss Angel and David Blaine who steals the spotlight from legit magicians by adulterating the art form with feats of endurance and self torture.
Carrey has followed a similar trajectory as a comedian to what Bruce Willis has done as an action star. Both started out wild and quirky, then mellowed out in an effort to be taken seriously. Now both want to use their more laid back acting styles in the genres that made them famous in the first place. What I'm saying is, this is not a very physical Jim Carrey performance. It's way more of an acting role. But he's good at it. All of this film's best moments revolve around Steve Gray. If this film were just a bit more ballsy, Gray's comeuppance at the end would be cheer-worthy. Instead, it's just smile-worthy. But hey, a smile is better than a frown, right? You don't have to be crazy to work here - but it helps. My kid beat up your honor student. If I wanted to hear an asshole, I'd fart.
The Incredible Burt Wonderstone's secret weapon, however, has nothing to do with comedy or actors and everything to do with magic. If the film works, it works because it refuses to throw magic under the bus as goofy bullshit. Wonderstone becomes a failure because he loses his love for magic. Steve Gray is a jerk because he has no respect for craft. Yes, we're meant to laugh at Carell and Buscemi's appearance on stage, but not in a mean way, and Steve Gray ultimately makes such showmanship seem necessary and worthwhile by contrast. These things matter and supply the film with heart strong enough to carry it through its rampant blandness.
This isn't a movie that will live on in your memory, but if you're bored and feel like seeing something, I doubt you'll regret watching it. Carrey's performance is worth the time it takes to watch, at least. I'm glad it's not a train wreck, but I also wish it lived up to more of its potential.