The Incredible Burt Wonderstone - DVD Review

'Carrey’s character is initially set up as a serious professional threat to the two Steves, but Scardino’s lack of focus means Steve Gray becomes more of an additional sideshow freak'

Compared to Now You See Me, this year’s other magically themed Hollywood release, The Incredible Burt Wonderstone takes a more traditional viewpoint of the magician’s trade. Whereas Louis Leterrier’s caper was often too focused upon recreating a David Copperfield level of spectacle through copious amounts of CGI, Don Scardino’s comedy is more Paul Daniels via Siegfried & Roy, with the focus largely upon the illusionist’s craft. In this way, Scardino creates a much more credible magical movie than Leterrier’s artificially tinged effort.

Despite its relative magical authenticity, unfortunately The Incredible Burt Wonderstone is less than inspired in a number of other areas. John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein’s script, whilst considerably funnier than that of their previous atrocious collaboration Horrible Bosses, is unwaveringly formulaic. You’ll see pretty much every plot point arrive at least two steps ahead, and you’ll most likely have worked out where each character will end up by the end of the film within five minutes of their introduction.

What message - if any - the film is trying to get across about the magic business is also unclear. Scardino’s target for criticism wavers from the dated Vegas antics of Burt Wonderstone (Steve Carell) and his partner Anton Marvelton (Steve Buscemi) to the extreme stunts of Jim Carrey’s David Blaine-a-like Steve Gray. Carrey’s character is initially set up as a serious professional threat to the two Steves, but Scardino’s lack of focus means Steve Gray becomes more of an additional sideshow freak as the rivalry between Burt and Anton escalates, before disappearing altogether for a significant stretch of the film as the character becomes more and more obsolete. Carrey’s reappearance at the end of the film is only necessary to ensure he’s not even more conspicuous through absence.

And yet, for all its faults, The Incredible Burt Wonderstone isn’t the excruciating misfire it could have been. The script, whilst predictable and unfocused, does contribute to this, with a good enough hit-to-miss ratio in the jokes department. It’s undoubtedly the cast, however, who primarily make Burt Wonderstone the enjoyable experience it is. Carell as the eponymous illusionist isn’t exactly challenged, and for the first half of the film the character feels like a rejected Will Ferrell role; but the actor’s performance is nonetheless consistently entertaining. Carell also has the ability to carry off the shift from caricature to more rounded comedy laced with emotion - something he has essentially made his name on over the past decade. Buscemi is pleasing, giving a largely understated turn; Olivia Wilde does the best she can in a woefully underwritten role; and Alan Arkin and the late James Gandolfini are reliably entertaining in support. Most memorable here, however, is Carrey with a performance harking back to his rubber-faced antics of the nineties and feeling neither tired nor unwelcome.

By rights, The Incredible Burt Wonderstone should have ended up as yet another below-average Hollywood comedy mess. Scardino’s handling of the plot and focus of his film is weak and uninspired, and yet there’s enough of worth left here to build around the strong and enjoyable cast to make this entertaining - even if repeat viewings are undoubtedly a magic trick too far for Burt Wonderstone and company.

By Ben Broadribb. Ben is a regular contributor to Film Intel, having previously written at Some Like It Hot Fuzz. He is normally seen in the wild wearing t-shirts containing obscure film references. He is a geek, often unashamedly so. He's also on and Twitter.

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