Rating: PG-13, sexual content, dangerous stunts, a
drug- related incident and language
David: Considering that the two main writers of this latest Steve Carell caper have the immensely funny "Horrible Bosses" in their repertoire, we, the audience, deserved far better. "The Incredible Burt Wonderstone" is sadistic, masochistic, misogynistic and also ridiculous. And that just describes the supposed funny bits.
This film is way too mean-spirited to be entertaining on any level. It's "Jackass" meets the "mayhem guy" on the insurance commercials. Some of the scenes are so disturbing that I still cringe, particularly those involving Jim Carrey's character. Let's start there.
Steve Gray is a street performer whose idea of magic is to do unspeakable things to his body --- in theory, not too far-fetched for an actor with Carrey's resume.
Consider this for clever writing: Mr. Gray lying on a bed of hot coals (over night), drilling a hole in his skull, holding his urine for 12 days, and the worst trick of all --- hiding a playing card inside his swollen cheek, revealing it by cutting open the swollen wound, and then stitching it up himself with needle and thread. Every scene with Carrey should have included a warning label: "Do not attempt this at home".
Later at a child's birthday party, Gray threatens to crush a tiny puppy. Thankfully Jeanne could not go to this screening --- the puppy scene would have sent her reeling from the theater. In fact, there should have been a disclaimer at the closing credits like "no animals were harmed in the making of this film". If there was, I missed it because I couldn't leave the premises fast enough. (Another scene involving a dove crashing into a plate glass window was not remotely funny).
The plot: Burt Wonderstone (Carell) and Anton Marvelton (Steve Buscemi) are boyhood pals who share a love of magic, and work their way up the Las Vegas celebrity ladder to be "Siegfried and Roy" type superstars on the Strip. In fact, the film rips off S & R by having a Roy-type at their favorite bar with a bandaged hand and neck after being attacked, he says, by his pets.
Back to Burt and Anton. The early scenes with the costumed pair performing on stage, including a nifty illusion called "Hangman", complete with Carell's long-haired wig and Buscemi's golden locks, are actually promising. The film begins to unravel, however, when Burt dismisses their female assistant, and replaces her with the stage manager, Jane (Olivia Wilde), who just happens to know how every trick works, and so the show goes on seamlessly.
James Gandolfini plays Doug Munny (get the pun?), the operator of Bally's Casino, who hires the boys, and later fires them when their act gets stale and packed houses dwindle to empty seats. Doug eventually runs his own casino, appropriately named "Doug" and holds auditions in exchange for a five-year contract. Gandolfini is quite amusing in this role, and appears to be having a good time.
Meanwhile, as Gray's reputation grows, Burt and Anton try to outdo him with outrageous stunts of their own, such as being suspended in a "hotbox" above the Strip, for a week, apparently with no food, water or bathroom facilities. It doesn't matter, because Burt caves after 20 minutes, and the box smashes to the ground. This results in a breakup of the two magicians, and Buscemi is nowhere to be found until later in the film where he is in China, foisting magic sets on starving children who only want food and drinking water. Hysterical stuff?
When Burt is ultimately reduced to hawking paper towels in a supermarket, and can't even hold that job, it's neither funny nor sympathetic --- just pathetic writing. Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daly desperately try to inject some sweetness into their screenplay, when Jane and Burt connect at a nursing home where Jane's grandmother resides. Too little and far too late. Director Don Scardino must share the blame here, as well. He has a lengthy, even frequently high-quality, resume --- all on television.
Alan Arkin plays Rance Holloway, an old-time TV magician who is the inspiration for young Burt to become an illusionist in the first place. For his second film in a row ("Stand Up Guys"), Arkin is hooked up to a respirator. He's getting typecast.
And the coup-de-grace stupid ending? It involves an inane stunt where Burt and Anton make an entire audience vanish, sort of. I would say you can't make this stuff up, but obviously you can.
One final note: David Copperfield, the real-life magician, actually makes a cameo appearance. His best act in years is to disappear from this film after a few seconds.
Opinion: Don't Bother!