For my first trick, allow me to write off an entire picture by merely affixing to the title a one-word contraction: The Incredible Burt Wonderstone isn’t. Please hold your applause.
Admittedly, no one expected incredible. That’s shooting way too high, especially for a Hollywood feature consigned to the calendar doldrums of early March. However, funny would be nice, given that the flick is being marketed under the general rubric of comedy. But funny it isn’t either, at least not the movie that Don Scardino appears intent on sort-of directing. Occasionally, if only in self-defence, the actors take charge to improvise a few hard left turns, whereupon other movies break out, which aren’t much funnier but do have the distinction of being weirdly incongruous and thus mildly distracting and so faintly interesting – hey, we’ll take our amusement where we can find it.
As for that main movie, it has Burt W. (Steve Carell) and Anton M. for Marvelton (Steve Buscemi) as the Martin & Lewis of magic acts – bosom buddies on the Vegas stage, constant bickerers off. Blame Burt, whose ego and hair are all of a puffed-up piece. These days, though, their act has grown stale and the crowds sparse. Not that it matters, because the big screen has a way of killing even the best stage magic. In a live theatre, the rabbit pulled from the hat is a neat trick; on film, the dumb bunny is just camera trickery.
Anyway, Anton bolts the act, which is a mercy since Buscemi’s talents are completely wasted here. In fact, we keep hoping that, being magically inclined, he’ll turn himself into Nucky Thompson and offer up a sneak preview of next season’s Boardwalk Empire, but no such luck.
His departure leaves Burt to do what puffed-up guys always do in sloppy comedies: hit rock bottom (reduced to hawking paper towels in supermarkets, making stains disappear), then rise anew to become the nice guy he never was. Along the way, humbled Burt plays a gig in a retirement home for entertainers who used to be somebody – I expected the place to be a lot more crowded than it was.
Naturally, he has a love interest (Olivia Wilde) who’s a wannabe magician herself. When their love is finally consummated, they keep taking breaks from the hot-and-heavy to pull condoms from each other’s ears. Yep, that’s one of those different movies that keep popping up. Another emerges when, during the Burt/Anton reunion scene, Carell takes it upon himself to mewl and weep and morph into God-knows-what-or-whom. Even Buscemi looks surprised, seemingly eager to channel his inner Nucky and machine-gun this twerp.
But the strangest movie-instead-of-the-movie comes courtesy of Jim Carrey as a rival Houdini who specializes in the magic of masochism – plucking a card from a bloody rent in his cheek, spending the night on a bed of hot coals, driving a power drill deep into his cranium. Coming from Carrey, an erstwhile headliner who used to star in these sorts of shenanigans, all this self-inflicted cruelty seems rather sad. What’s more, Carrey plays him with an unholy stare and a two-toned Jesus wig, as if to suggest that, when it comes to resurrecting a stalled career, simple magic won’t do – only a miracle will suffice.
Speaking of careers, Burt and Anton redeem theirs by concocting a new trick that makes the whole audience disappear. But that disappearing act comes at the movie’s end – by then, of course, it’s redundant.