On paper The Incredible Burt Wonderstone looks like it could be a spectacularly funny film. You have Steve Buscemi, Steve Carell and Jim Carrey as magicians in Las Vegas should be a gut-wrenching comedy. It has a stellar cast and for the film’s opening act makes you think the film is set up for some brilliant comedic moments. There’s so much material to be mined that the film’s opening half hour feel like a grand oeuvre for a brilliant comedy about the nature of entertainers.
Unfortunately after the film’s fairly stellar opening act the film runs out of laughs and limps along for the final hour.
Buscemi and Carell star as Anton and Burt, respectively, a pair of Siegfried and Roy type of magicians who’ve seemingly overstayed their welcome for their boss (James Gandolfini). Their act is stale and clichéd in comparison to that of a Criss Angel type (Jim Carrey) with a cable television show. When Anton and Burt lose their status, and then their show, it causes a breakup between the two. With Burt broke and down on his luck, it’s to his former assistant (Olivia Wilde) and Burt’s childhood hero (Alan Arkin) to rekindle his act and defeat his newfound rival for the right to remain Vegas’s premier magical act.
And for the film’s opening act there’s some real potential for brilliance. We get to see Burt as he goes from being a bullied child to a prominent entertainer. It’s fairly interesting and we get to see him develop from the son of a single mother used to doing everything on his own to the most pampered of celebrities. For a comedy that deals in a more farcical tone it’s a great setup. We get to see where he’s been and how’s he developed into the over the top persona we get to know now. Carell is excellent for the part, combining his usual level of nebbish type of behavior meshed with an over the top celebrity stereotype, and gets plenty of laughs as a result. Carrey is suitably creepy, too, and going into the film’s second act you’d think that there’d be tons of comedy to mine.
After the opening act it becomes painful because the film stops being funny. It grinds to a halt and becomes more perfunctory than comedic.
It’s as if they wrote the film with all the best bits early on and opted to leave none of them for later. The film’s opening act is so incredibly funny that it can’t sustain the momentum afterwards. It winds up leaving the film as just another average film in an average first quarter of 2013.
Director: Don Scardino Writer: Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley Notable Cast: Steve Carell, Steve Buscemi, Olivia Wilde, Jim Carrey, James Gandolfini, Alan Arkin
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