The Incredible Burt Wonderstone

The Incredible Burt Wonderstone
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Director: Don Scardino
Cert: 12A
Genre: Comedy
Starring: Steve Carrell Steve Buscemi Olivia Wilde Alan Arkin James Gandolfini Jim Carrey
Running Time: 1 hr 40 mins

There is certainly much that is familiar in this brash comedy concerning the rise, fall and (you know it) rise again of a vulgar Las Vegas magic act.

Come to think of it, you could lift Will Ferrell and Jon Heder from Blades of Glory and – without any alterations in their performances – drop them comfortably into the roles played here by Steve Carell and Steve Buscemi. Nobody would detect any joins. The film plays to threadbare, choppy Saturday Night Live rhythms. It utilises the standard redemptive arc: bad things happen to a nasty man and he immediately becomes a nice man.

Still, the film is loaded with good jokes and is energised by an impressively savage analysis of contemporary stage magic. Put simply, this film despises David Blaine and all his pseudo-mystical fellow-travellers. Yes, The Incredible Burt Wonderstone is a campaigning film.

We begin with our two friends – Burt Wonderstone (Carell) and Anton Marvelton (Buscemi) – bonding as teenage boys in the 1970s. Their passion for magic eventually secures them tenure at a Vegas hotel run by an impressively venal James Gandolfini. The conjurors fall into lazy habits. The patter has become a bit stale. But the audiences still flock to the show.


Then a long-haired, messianic street magician begins stealing their thunder. Played by Jim Carrey with all his teeth ablaze, Steve Gray sleeps on burning coals, refuses to go to the bathroom for days on end, and cuts forced playing cards from lumps in his cheek. Before too long he has scared the arrogant
Wonderstone and the gormless Marvelton into involuntary retirement. An underused Olivia Wilde shuttles perfunctorily between them.

There are some fine set-pieces: Burt’s pathetic attempt to do the double act without Anton is particularly hilarious. But the picture’s strongest selling point is its demolition of the new magic’s supposed dangerousness. Siegfried and Roy are no less “real” or “edgy” than Blaine and his unshaven cabal. And, for all their pomp, they are a great deal less self-important.

As if to prove the point, David Copperfield turns up in a good-
natured cameo. The real Mr Blaine is nowhere to be seen.

Donald Clarke

Donald Clarke

Donald Clarke, a contributor to The Irish Times, is Chief Film Correspondent and a regular columnist