The Incredible Burt Wonderstone
Premise: Burt Wonderstone and Anton Marvelton were two bullied kids when they grew up. But one day, Burt gets a magic set from his parents, and they eventually end up forming a successful Las Vegas magic act. In an effort to get a leg up on their competition, a street magician named Steve Gray, they try a more dangerous stunt and it drives the duo apart. They get fired, Burt's life hits rock bottom, and the rest of the movie is spent trying to get back to the top, etc...
-Jim Carrey is the best part of this movie, hands down. No argument. He goes back to his face-warping, insane style of physical comedy that made him famous in the first place. It's not quite a "talking butt" Ace Ventura level of comedy, but it's definitely a "coming out of an animatronic rhino's butt" Ace Ventura 2 level of comedy, for all you 1990's Pet Detective purists out there [sips cherry Mondo out of a wine glass]. He plays Steve Gray, the street magaician who performs acts of mutilation on himself under the guise of magic, which is a hilarious take on Criss Angel type weirdos. Jim did everything right, and I loved every second he was on the screen. But much like Joker from The Dark Knight, the bad guy was only on camera for like 15 minutes. Regardless, it gave me some nostalgic feelings about classic Jim Carrey, and made me excited that he's back in the mindset of giving awesome performances. In other words, The Incredible Burt Wonderstone just made me that much more excited for Kick Ass 2.
-I really like the premise of the movie. Dueling Las Vegas magicians is a good framework for a comedy. On paper, if I wrote down the basic plot points of this film, I actually think they could have done something great with it, in better hands. I don't want to sound like a completely lame 8-year-old kid, but frankly, I just enjoy watching magic tricks. During the only time I've ever been to Vegas, I convinced my friends to go see a Penn & Teller act over every other show. I don't know how much they liked it, but I loved it. This film could have been the comedy version of The Prestige, but it sadly fell short. Still, I was entertained by the magic elements of the film.
-Steve Buscemi is great as usual. Even if he's barely used in the movie. Him going to third world countries to give magic kits to starving people was a funny bit.
-I thought the funniest (non Jim Carrey) joke of the movie was when they showed the absurd reality of Burt's implausible final trick. Because when he did the trick, I thought to myself, "Well, that makes no logical sense to be able to pull that off. Almost to an unfunny degree." But then they actually wrote a funny explanation and executed it in a comically goofy way. A way they should have used more throughout the movie.
-The romantic side plot in this film was one of the worst I've ever seen. Burt sexually harasses and mentally abuses Olivia Wilde's character, pretty consistently and without much reason, for the entire first two acts of this film. Like to the point where no sane woman would ever be remotely interested in this awful man. And Wilde's character is easily the most grounded person in the entire movie. So when Burt hits the bottom, does a complete 180 personality shift, and somehow manages to apologize to Wilde to great results (for him), it seemed wrong. She basically rewards Burt sexually for apologizing once to her, despite being a jerk to her for the entire time he's known her. Can't we just have a movie where the guy has his little redemption moment, but the girl realistically still refuses him? Burt was easily, EASILY the least likable character in this entire film (it was a shame he was the protagonist), and the fact that everything just works in his favor at the end is lazy, uninspired writing.
-Like I just said above, Burt is the least likable character in the film. I would have much rather just seen a film about Steve Gray (and his street magic show "Brain Rapist"). Burt shifts from magical genius to horrifyingly stupid idiot at the drop of a hat. And his transformation from complete jerk to humble Everyman happens probably over the course of one or two scenes. Steve Carrell gives a pretty odd performance to top it off; with each scene either having him display a charisma as if this was a passion project of his for some time, or the mundane delivery of guy who completely regrets being in this movie altogether.
-I don't hate Alan Arkin at all, but ever since Little Miss Sunshine he's played the same sarcastic old curmudgeon in everything I've seen him. Do you need an old, broken down sounding man to overuse profanity and/or possibly be horny? Then get the number for Arkin's agent.
-About as predictable as predictable comedies get. I don't think it offers up a single twist or unexpected plot point.
-Actually, the entire beginning of the story when the two leads are children getting bullied and learning magic could have been cut from the final film. The movie could have started out with a crowd entering the Burt & Anton theater, with the first real scene having them performing in Vegas. But instead we have to get the cliché childhood scene to tell the audience that, at one point, Burt was a nice person, and he was friends with Anton, who was also a nice person. At some point, as a filmmaker, you should assume you don't have to feed the audience so much expository drivel. If the first scene was the Vegas act, ending with them fighting about how they've hated doing the same tricks every day for the last 10 years, we'd have all the backstory we need, in 1/4 of the time. It's not like they even used the opening scene as a context for Burt and Anton's friendship on its own, assuming we'd remember it and use it for the characters' development. No, we are told just about every three minutes through dialogue that Burt and Anton were childhood friends and they've worked as a team their whole lives. Why show us that they were childhood friends if you're just going to mention it all the time anyway? I GET IT, THEY WERE FRIENDS GROWING UP, AND THEY NEED EACH OTHER TO DO THEIR ACT, BLAH BLAH BLAH...
-I'm pretty sure they just stole the magician's bar idea (and set decorations) from The Gothic Castle from Arrested Development. I'm surprised Tony Wonder didn't stroll in.
Final Thoughts: Look, as predictable and tame as this movie is, it's very entertaining. The greatest compliment I can give Burt Wonderstone is that it's a perfect movie to just watch and enjoy and not think too hard about. Kind of like how the action genre can have mindlessly fun explosion thrillers, the comedy genre can have generically amusing cute romps. I wouldn't necessarily recommend The Incredible Burt Wonderstone, but if you ever find yourself in a position that you're watching it, you shouldn't be too surprised if you end up entertained by it. On the Steve Carrell spectrum, it's not as irrationally mind numbing as Dinner for Schmucks, and it's not as forcefully depressing as Seeking a Friend for the End of the World. It's probably most like Date Night. Remember Date Night? You probably don't. And you probably won't remember Burt Wonderstone, either. But at least you won't completely hate yourself while your watching it. We should all just be happy that Brick Tamland will be returning in December.
6 out of 10
Any magic tricks like this one:
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When Gob does it, it's not a magic trick, it's an illusion!
(NSFW audio, probably)
From the theatre displays and the trailer, this movie should have been a slam-dunk: pompous superstar loses his way, gets a come-uppance from Clubber Lang, I mean, Chris Angel, and has to battle his way back from disgrace while re-discovering his essential core and where he came from and what it all means to him as he gains redemption.
But with magicians instead of boxers.
I'm surprised Tony Wonder didn't stroll in.
I wonder where he is. Did somebody say Wonder....see below.
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I finally got to Red Box Wonderstone last night. Scott, I think you were a little too hard on it. The opening childhood years section I thought was absolutely needed, as well as funny: my wife was around the corner, only hearing the audio, and she laughed her butt off during that opening childhood bit. You NEED that bit, to explain why his adult self is so messed-up, and to give the audience some empathy for a character that's insufferable for most of the movie. It explains that he's from a broken home, no dad, bullied as a nerd, needing love and using magic talents to fill this need, thus never having to "grow up" the way the rest of us do.
This carries over into his Vegas lifestyle, which I would have liked to see a little more of. I laughed at how conditioned his character was to hotel suite life, such that, offering to help Olivia Wilde later at her home with her dishes after dinner, he puts them out in the hallway for a non-existent "room service" to pick up. I thought they could have written some more bits like this to play up the fact that once Burt hit success, he built this bubble of fantasy life around himself, cutting himself off from reality more and more, and removing the need to relate to people and be an adult without the crutch of his fame, which created the pompous ass he had become. This is classic hollywood movie stuff for the middle act.
You also don't diss Arkin. He was darned good in this role; holding back and being more controlled, nuanced, than the part typically calls for. As a kid who grew up watching TV in the 60's and 70's in Chicago, I was well-familiar with Marshall Brodien and his TV Magic Cards ads, later the TV magic kit, which was very closely replicated in the movie, and his alter-ego Whizzo The Clown on the WGN Bozo show, the TV/film shorts of magic tricks performed by "the Magic Hands", with the jungle: "The rest is up to YOU!" during Frazier Thomas' kids' variety show. Arkin captured this zeitgeist and tone perfectly.
When he and Carell meet in the nursing home, and he tells Carell he quit because "My work had become rote and mechanical", you can see the moment of real recognition in Carell's character for what he has lost and how he lost it. I could have pictured the late Rip Torn as the Old Master Magician, and I can already picture him chewing the scenery, in conventional fashion for a character like this, and I like Arkin's aloof treatment better.
While Carrey's hipster magician was well-done and funny, - as well as just slightly too creepy - I thought it was actually over-used in terms of the story, and I wished they'd had the courage to keep his part smaller in the movie, because Jim, just like Robin, will just take over if you give him rope.
Buscemi has been a fave of mine ever since "Living In Oblivion", (which you absolutely MUST watch if you are in the business, or I don't want to know you).
Steve has a lot of fun with playing the unloved sidekick, as a parody of many film roles he's had pushed on him.
David Copperfield showed some guts and class, appearing in a cameo as himself, in a movie that is partly parodying him, and many others in his line of work.
Another thing the movie could have used a few more scenes of is straight-up actual magic tricks. The wonder conveyed in the scenes that use them comes across so strong, in a time when we're all jaded by TV and internet and all that. To just see some good close-up prestidigitation, defying the evidence of your eyes live, without special effects - still captures the imagination, as it did in my childhood, and Burt's.
Finally, Steve Miller STILL plays the hell out of "Abracadabra"- saw him live just last year... I would tell the people in the movie: respect Stevie! :-)
Was this a knock-it-out-of-the-park hit? No. A solid "B" movie? Yes.