The Incredible Burt Wonderstone is like a palate cleanser for the year’s numerous tasteless comedies. That doesn’t mean veteran TV director Don Scardino’s film about friendships, rivalries, and redemption among magicians is a cinematic savior, but rather that its genial nature is the equivalent of a mild tonic. Operating on the dated assumption that everyone likes magic and affected voices from Steve Carrell and Jim Carrey, the film is a veritable blast from the past. Tame to the point of boredom, however, only one of these nostalgic bits connect, leaving the others to perish.
Just as Blades of Glory poked fun at the goofy costumes and theatricality of figure skating, The Incredible Burt Wonderstone slaps around the eerily similar world of illusionists. But while the Winter Olympics keep sequins and triple lutzes on the cultural radar every four years, neither glitzy Vegas stage shows nor street magic are currently all that vogue, making this feature-length lampooning the victim of poor timing. Such hurdles don’t stop screenwriters Jonathan M. Goldstein and John Francis Daley from picking the industry apart, yet considering the topic’s irrelevance and the musty schtick of its stars, there’s a sense that the project has been collecting dust on Warner Bros.’ shelves.
Indeed, while filming began in early 2012, the script’s first iteration dates back to 2006 and it shows. At that time, the zeitgeist shift from legendary stage duo Burt Wonderstone (Carrell) and Anton Marvelton (Steve Buscemi) to the street magic of Steve Gray (Carrey) aligned a good deal more with David Blaine and Criss Angel’s assault on traditional David Copperfield grandeur. As if transported to that time themselves, Carrell and Carrey go for the vintage obnoxiousness on which both built their comedy film careers. Straining to recapture this bygone style, the effects are sadly stale and amplified by signs (i.e. Crazy, Stupid, Love and I Love You Phillip Morris) that each were outgrowing such shenanigans.
Relevancy aside, the childlike wonder of magic proves surprisingly potent. Most of the stunts, whether in a big Vegas show, on the street, or in a nursing home, carry a decent level of intrigue and are genuinely fun to watch play out. A good deal of credit goes to Alan Arkin as Rance Holloway, the celebrity performer whose home magic set first inspired Burt as a youngster. As he often does, Arkin gives the bland material a much-needed spark, though even his charms only go so far. The Incredible Burt Wonderstone instead belongs to Carrell and Carrey, neither of whom are remotely interesting. Out of touch and out of line, their performances recall better days and exhibit a cluelessness not even magic can fix.
Rated PG-13 for sexual content, dangerous stunts, a drug-related incident and language.
The Incredible Burt Wonderstone is currently playing at the Carolina Cinemas on Hendersonville Rd.