Ever since David Copperfield made a plane disappear, or David Blaine elevated himself above the ground, magic has taken on a rawer, less gimmicky edge. No longer about mere rabbit and hats, or merging metal rings, conjuring is now about taking an audience to the edge – and beyond. Competing with that kind of magic is the challenge faced by Burt Wonderstone (Steve Carell) and long-time partner Anton Marvelton (Steve Buscemi) in Don Scardino’s The Incredible Burt Wonderstone (2013). Used to being sell-out Las Vegas performers, the duo’s hang-man tricks and Steve Miller Band openings now appear old and tired.
Fans instead flock to see Steve Gray (Jim Carrey), an unrefined, energetic, in-yo’-face guerilla magician whose show, the unfortunately titled ‘Mind Rape’, is quite literally violating the senses of everyone it touches. As Gray’s stock rises, Wonderstone’s consequently diminishes, his partnership with Marvelton is broken and his career left in tatters. Finding solace in his old magician idol, Rance Holloway (Oscar nominee Alan Arkin) and glamorous new assistant Jane (Olivia Wilde), Burt sets off to rediscover his incredible magic touch. An eclectic mix of Hollywood talent combine to bring this amusing, if overly predictable American comedy to life. Scardino made his name with NBC’s 30 Rock, and here demonstrates an astute grasp on comedy, allowing his players the time to entertain.
In addition, co-writers Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley, fresh from their success with 2011’s Horrible Bosses, again deliver some decent adult comedy. However, like the aforementioned hit, the ratio of hits and misses is about 60/40, with many gags falling short. Similarly, Carell feels a little miss-cast as the titular magician. It’s hard to fully believe in as a slime-ball, and you wonder what elevation a Will Ferrell-type would have brought into play. That said, Carell is always likeable and does muster some great laughs – particularly through his chemistry with Buscemi, who himself is great as the sidelined Marvelton. The rabbit at the bottom of the hat though is Carrey, who shimmies back onto the screen with great aplomb.
Gray is like the love child of Blaine and The Mask’s Stanley Ipkiss, mixed with a dash of Lloyd Christmas; part ballsy entertainer, physical impossibility and sheer dumbness. Relishing his return to comedy, Carrey doesn’t miss a beat, and revels in an edgier supporting role without the weight of carrying the movie. When it hits the right notes, The Incredible Burt Wonderstone is a frivolous joy, with Carrey stealing the rug from under his co-stars with all the joie de vivre of his earlier comic outings. Carell makes as decent a fist as he’s capable of in a somewhat unorthodox role, and the support from Buscemi, Arkin and Wilde is strong enough; yet none of them really have quite what it takes to leave third gear.