The Incredible Burt Wonderstone is painfully trifling, a nothing of a film that wastes the talents of Steve Carell, Steve Buscemi, Olivia Wilde, and especially Alan Arkin. It’s worse than a formulaic comedy because it never even finds the formulaic groove: It whirs and spins, and though it tries very hard to hit those familiar beats, it remains listless and off key. It never really builds toward anything; it can’t even successfully muster a big, contrived closing sequence. Burt Wonderstone coughs then dies with a big, wet raspy thud of disappointment.
Wonderstone stars Steve Carell in the title role, a man who has been working he same magic show in Vegas for over a decade, who has — along with his partner Anton Marvelton (Buscemi) — fallen into a malaise. He’s numb, and even the bickering with Marvelton has become rote.
Enter Steve Gray (Jim Carrey), a man who is less a magician than a man who got lost on the way to the Jackass set. He doesn’t perform magic; he does stunts. He goes a week without pissing; he uses his head as a nail; he sleeps on hot coals; he allows himself to be a human piñata. It’s a role Jim Carrey was born to play, and yet Jim Carrey doesn’t even seem to care about investing much of himself in it besides his usual blend of manic and mugging.
For reasons that are not apparent from what’s onscreen, audiences are captivated with Grey, and Wonderstone’s lagging ticket sales plus his refusal to add any new tricks into his show leads to his dismissal. He and his partner split up, and Wonderstone is eventually reduced to performing card tricks in a retirement home, where he runs into Rance Holloway (Arkin), the magician who inspired Wonderstone as a child, and who helps him to find the sene of “wonder and awe” again.
The problem is that there is never that sense of awe and wonder in the film. Carell implements one of those schticky comedian voices that serves no purpose other than to grate, which makes it impossible to sympathize with the character even once he transforms himself into a “likable” magician. He’s annoying; Buscemi’s character is annoying; Jim Carrey’s character is super annoying; and Olivia Wilde is not even given enough to work with to rise to the level of annoying, although the idea that she might fall for Wonderstone is annoying. It’s an hour-and-a-half collection of annoying tics and voices from annoying people doing annoying things, and the magic isn’t even good.
That’s the biggest travesty here: It’s a movie about magic with uninspired magic tricks. It feels like the screenwriters — Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley — had in their minds the idea to make a movie that celebrates old-school, rabbit-out-of-a-hat magic and contrast it with the new generation of Criss Angel-like Illusionists, who don’t so magic so much as torture themselves. It fails in part because the magic is bad, but also because the magicians — Carell, Buscemi, and Wilde — don’t bring any chemistry or magnetism to their roles. Carell and Carrey both feel like the old-school magicians resigned to being put out to pasture, and instead of fighting, they shrug and accept their trajectories. There’s a lot of magic in The Incredible Burt Wonderstone, but nobody bothers to bring it to life.