Directed by: Don Scardino
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Jim Carrey gives one of his funniest performances in years, while Steve Carell stumbles through with a barely-believable character in "The Incredible Burt Wonderstone," a moderately funny comedy about two rival magicians in Vegas fighting for a job at a prestigious casino.
The "good" magician is Burt Wonderstone, played by Carell. Quotation marks are there because it's hard to call a character so unpleasant "good,”but more on that in a moment. An introductory sequence from Burt's childhood shows that he was picked on by bullies as a kid. The only solace he found was in learning magic tricks and performing them with his sickly friend, Anthony. Fast-forward 25 years, and the Amazing Burt Wonderstone and Anton Marvelton (Steve Buscemi) have their own show in Las Vegas.
But the fantastic success gets to Wonderstone's head, and turns him into a shallow and arrogant person. A kind of person who talks down to everyone he meets and treats people like objects. The writers of the film go overboard in making Wonderstone unlikeable for the first act of the movie. There is not a single humanizing scene during that time that reminds us of that poor bullied kid who used to use magic as an escape. He's so unsympathetic it's almost enjoyable when we see him fail at his job and lose his friends.
The "bad" magician is Steve Gray (Jim Carrey), a street performer who specializes in doing absurd harm to his body. Like Chris Angel meets Johnny Knoxville. The dozen or so stunts we get to see him do are by far the funniest parts of the movie. Like one where he doesn't blink for a week, then tops off the "performance" by having mace sprayed into his face, with his eyes still wide open. Carrey's talent for physical comedy and exaggerated emotions sell each of his scenes.
There is a type of magician called a quick-change artist, who can appear to change their clothes in less than a second. These guys have nothing on Burt Wonderstone, who halfway through the film transforms from a loathsome narcissist into the naive and quirky character Steve Carell seems to always play faster than you can say presto-chango. He even gets his assistant (Olivia Wilde), who originally hated him for being a womanizer, to fall in love with him after a chance meeting at a nursing home and a few awkward conversations. It's almost as unrealistic as a scene where a dove magically flies out of a salt-shaker.
"The Incredible Burt Wonderstone" has a scattered approach to humor. Most of the jokes landed in small pockets of the audience. There was rarely sweeping laughter, except during the Steve Gray scenes, and a particular part at the end where they reveal in hilarious detail how a certain trick was done. Overall, the film is a high point in Jim Carrey's acting career and a low point in Steve Carell's, leaving the rest of the movie somewhere in the middle.