SXSW: The Incredible Burt Wonderstone (**½)

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incredible-burt-poster06The Incredible Burt Wonderstone is kind of a let down to tell you the truth. Given the talent involved and the subject matter, what could have been a fun romp of a film is actually a bit of a slog, far more reliant on formulaic plot points and jokes that only stay with you for a few moments. It is a testament to the acting that this film manages to rise to a respectable piece of enjoyment, but in the end it’s not really enough to complete save the film.

Burt Wonderstone begins with introducing us to to it’s titular character and his best friend Anton she they were in grade school. Relentlessly picked on and made fun of, they find an oasis in a Rance Holloway (Alan Arkin) magic kit. Flash forward some years and the duo are currently headlining a show at Bally’s in Las Vegas. Things are not all good in paradise as their act has become pretty stale and the emergence of a new street magician (Jim Carey) causes a literal and figurative falling out between Anton (Buscemi) and Burt (Carell). However, when casino mogul Doug Munny announces that he is holding a contest for a 5 year contract at his new casino, Burt teams up with long suffering assistant Jane (Olivia Wilde) and Anton to resurrect his career and perform an impossible trick, making the audience disappear.

As mentioned above, the acting was pretty much the saving grace of the film. Steve Carell fully inhabits his character, not worrying about just how unlikable the character gets, which allows the audience a full catharsis when he realizes the err of his ways. It reminded me a lot of the performance he gave in Get Smart, except instead of playing a well meaning agent, he’s a ridiculously coiffed self obsessed magician. Steve Buscemi is right there with him in delivering a good performance as Anton, the oft forgotten member of the duo. What struck me most about this performance is how much of a straight man he’s playing here but still finding interesting ways to add to the jokes through his character’s weirdness. While it’s always welcome to see Jim Carey acting in anything these days, they didn’t give him much to do and he disappears from the narrative for significant stretches of the movie. He definitely was having a blast in the character, but the script doesn’t necessarily give him the clearest motivations other than that he’s an egomaniac. Olivia Wilde and Alan Arkin are give solid performances.

There are some pretty great bits in the movie from the falling out of the hot box, anything involving Jim Carey, and especially the final act with its disappearing audience trick, but they’re undermined by a story that never rises above, or tries to for that matter. The script derives many of it’s laughs from surface level jokes that are forgotten within a few minutes or that we’ve seen before in movies. It also forces a love storyline into the narrative between Jane (Olivia Wilde) and Burt when there’s not much of any kind of attraction on Jane’s behalf to Burt. The character was already on his way to having a redemption story, no need to add another trope to that by allowing him to get the girl.

The Incredible Burt Wonderstone opens in theaters on March 15.