Movie Review by Kelly Laymon


The war between old school magic and the extreme magic of today is explored with humor in THE INCREDIBLE BURT WONDERSTONE, which opened on Friday, March 15th.

As kids, the future Burt Wonderstone (Steve Carell) and Anton Marvelton (Steve Buscemi) bonded, became friends, and enjoyed the magic kits and videos of Rance Holloway (Alan Arkin).  Now, as adults, they’ve hit the big time as Vegas headliners at Bally’s, but have grown tired of each other.

When an extreme street magician named Steve Gray (Jim Carrey) enters the scene with his series called “Brain Rapist”, the audience for Burt and Anton dwindles…and dwindles…until they are canned after a series of misadventures while attempting to keep up with the times.

Everyone goes their separate ways for a bit.  Anton does some humanitarian work in a third world country.  Burt, desperate for a job, starts doing magic shows at a retirement home.  Who does he find there?  His hero, Rance Holloway!  Everything falls into place and Burt and Anton begin to rediscover their “magic” for a final battle with Steve Gray.

Steve Gray’s routine is clearly based on David Blaine/Criss Angel types.  Burt and Anton’s act is unbearably corny.  Their hair and costumes are very Siegfried and Roy.  It’s the kind of magic show that definitely would NOT go over in this day and age.  It’s hard to believe it would take a Blaine/Angel type to knock them down after Penn & Teller redefined magic shows over thirty years ago.  To boot, at their Bally’s show, Burt and Anton enter the stage to The Steve Miller Band’s “Abracadabra” and some truly cringe-worthy choreography.

With a cast this solid, it’s hard to go too wrong.  And it doesn’t go wrong!  I’m having a hard time recalling the most recent time Steve Carell sucked in a project.  (Other than his final two seasons on NBC’s THE OFFICE, of course.)  Steve Buscemi is great fun to see in a comedic role larger than his standard cameos in Adam Sandler flicks.

I’ve always been a fan of Alan Arkin, but the way he’s made up as his character had me convinced he was Rip Torn.  During the end credits, I kept wondering where Rip Torn’s name was and who the hell Alan Arkin played.  Duh.

Olivia Wilde, who I never understood the appeal of and never found memorable, has a nice role as Stagehand Jane, who ends up being thrown into Burt and Anton’s pre-cancellation show as the sexy assistant, although she turns out to be a magic nerd and fine magician herself.

There are some nice little bit parts.  Gillian Jacobs (COMMUNITY, NBC) has a small part as one of Burt’s kooky sexual conquests.  James Gandolfini isn’t all that entertaining as a Donald Trump-esque casino owner, though.  Brad Garrett, who actually owns a comedy club in Vegas, and Jay Mohr have small roles, and David Copperfield has a cameo.

It’s worth noting that BURT WONDERSTONE was co-written by John Francis Daley, who also co-wrote the very funny HORRIBLE BOSSES (2011) and is part of the old-“FREAKS-&-GEEKS-made-good” gang.

All in all, I found the film to be very funny and enjoyable.  Aside from the great cast and writing, I’m also a sucker for Vegas culture and magic.  I’m not making a 40 YEAR OLD VIRGIN (2005) joke about magic camp when I say that I have a scar under my chin from an accident at magic camp as a kid.  (One of two scars now…)  I was a bit surprised that David Copperfield was the only Vegas magician with a cameo.  Where was The Amazing Jonathan?  To discuss the sight gags or further plot points would ruin the fun, so I won’t.  There’s nothing deep.  There’s nothing super-raunchy.  But if you just want to enjoy about 90 minutes and have some serious chuckles…

I’d give this Five Knives, but…<waves hands> one disappeared.  Poof!  So, Four it is!

© Copyright 2013 by Kelly Laymon



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