Lazy Movie Review: The Incredible Burt Wonderstone

burt-wonderstone

Premise:  Burt Wonderstone and Anton Marvelton were two bullied kids when they grew up.  But one day, Burt gets a magic set from his parents, and they end up forming a successful Las Vegas magic act.  In an effort to get a leg up on their competition, a street magician named Steve Gray, they try a more dangerous stunt and it drives the duo apart.  They get fired, Burt’s life hits rock bottom, and the rest of the movie is spent trying to get back to the top, etc…

 

Pros:

-Jim Carrey is the best part of this movie, hands down.  No argument.  He goes back to his face-warping, insane style of physical comedy that made him famous in the first place.  It’s not quite a “talking butt” Ace Ventura level of comedy, but it’s definitely a “coming out of an animatronic rhino’s butt” Ace Ventura 2 level of comedy, for all you 1990’s Pet Detective purists out there [sips cherry Mondo out of a wine glass].  He plays Steve Gray, the street magician who performs acts of mutilation on himself under the guise of magic, which is a hilarious take on Criss Angel type weirdos.  Jim did everything right, and I loved every second he was on the screen.  But much like Joker from The Dark Knight, the bad guy was only on camera for like 15 minutes.  Regardless, it gave me some nostalgic feelings about classic Jim Carrey, and made me excited that he’s back in the mindset of giving awesome performances.  In other words, The Incredible Burt Wonderstone just made me that much more excited for Kick Ass 2.

-I really like the premise of the movie.  Dueling Las Vegas magicians is a good framework for a comedy.  On paper, if I wrote down the basic plot points of this film, I actually think they could have done something great with it, in better hands.  I don’t want to sound like a completely lame 8-year-old kid, but frankly, I just enjoy watching magic tricks.  During the only time I’ve ever been to Vegas, I convinced my friends to go see a Penn & Teller act over every other show.  I don’t know how much they liked it, but I loved it.  This film could have been the comedy version of The Prestige, but it sadly fell short.  Still, I was entertained by the magic elements of the film.

-Steve Buscemi is great as usual.  Even if he’s barely used in the movie.  Him going to third world countries to give magic kits to starving people was a funny bit.

-I thought the funniest (non Jim Carrey) joke of the movie was when they showed the absurd reality of Burt’s implausible final trick.  Because when he did the trick, I thought to myself, “Well, that makes no logical sense to be able to pull that off.  Almost to an unfunny degree.”  But then they actually wrote a funny explanation and executed it in a comically goofy way.  A way they should have used more throughout the movie.

 

Cons:

-The romantic side plot in this film was one of the worst I’ve ever seen.  Burt sexually harasses and mentally abuses Olivia Wilde’s character, pretty consistently and without much reason, for the entire first two acts of this film.  Like to the point where no sane woman would ever be remotely interested in this awful man.  And Wilde’s character is easily the most grounded person in the entire movie.  So when Burt hits the bottom, does a complete 180 personality shift, and somehow manages to apologize to Wilde to great results (for him), it seemed wrong.  She basically rewards Burt sexually for apologizing once to her, despite being a dick to her for the entire time he’s known her.  Can’t we just have a movie where the guy has his little redemption moment, but the girl realistically still refuses him?  Burt was easily, EASILY the least likable character in this entire film (it was a shame he was the protagonist), and the fact that everything just works in his favor at the end is lazy, uninspired writing.

-Like I just said above, Burt is the least likable character in the film.  I would have much rather just seen a film about Steve Gray (and his street magic show “Brain Rapist”).  Burt shifts from magical genius to horrifyingly stupid idiot at the drop of a hat.  And his transformation from complete jerk to humble Everyman happens probably over the course of one or two scenes.  Steve Carrell gives a pretty odd performance to top it off; with each scene either having him display a charisma as if this was a passion project of his for some time, or the mundane delivery of guy who completely regrets being in this movie altogether.

-I don’t hate Alan Arkin at all, but ever since Little Miss Sunshine he’s played the same sarcastic old curmudgeon in everything I’ve seen him.  Do you need an old, broken down sounding man to overuse profanity and/or possibly be horny?  Then get the number for Arkin’s agent.

-About as predictable as predictable comedies get.  I don’t think it offers up a single twist or unexpected plot point.

-Actually, the entire beginning of the story when the two leads are children getting bullied and learning magic could have been cut from the final film.  The movie could have started out with a crowd entering the Burt & Anton theater, with the first real scene having them performing in Vegas.  But instead we have to get the cliché childhood scene to tell the audience that, at one point, Burt was a nice person, and he was friends with Anton, who was also a nice person.  At some point, as a filmmaker, you should assume you don’t have to feed the audience so much expository drivel.  If the first scene was the Vegas act, ending with them fighting about how they’ve hated doing the same tricks every day for the last 10 years, we’d have all the backstory we need, in 1/4 of the time.  It’s not like they even used the opening scene as a context for Burt and Anton’s friendship on its own, assuming we’d remember it and use it for the characters’ development.  No, we are told just about every three minutes through dialogue that Burt and Anton were childhood friends and they’ve worked as a team their whole lives.  Why show us that they were childhood friends if you’re just going to mention it all the time anyway?  I GET IT, THEY WERE FRIENDS GROWING UP, AND THEY NEED EACH OTHER TO DO THEIR ACT, BLAH BLAH BLAH…

-I’m pretty sure they just stole the magician’s bar idea (and set decorations) from The Gothic Castle from Arrested Development.  I’m surprised Tony Wonder didn’t stroll in.

 

Final Thoughts:  Look, as predictable and tame as this movie is, it’s very entertaining.  The greatest compliment I can give Burt Wonderstone is that it’s a perfect movie to just watch and enjoy and not think too hard about.  Kind of like how the action genre can have mindlessly fun explosion thrillers, the comedy genre can have generically amusing cute romps.  I wouldn’t necessarily recommend The Incredible Burt Wonderstone, but if you ever find yourself in a position that you’re watching it, you shouldn’t be too surprised if you end up entertained by it.  On the Steve Carrell spectrum, it’s not as irrationally mind numbing as Dinner for Schmucks, and it’s not as forcefully depressing as Seeking a Friend for the End of the World.  It’s probably most like Date Night.  Remember Date Night?  You probably don’t.  And you probably won’t remember Burt Wonderstone, either.  But at least you won’t completely hate yourself while your watching it.  We should all just be happy that Brick Tamland will be returning in December.

6 out of 10

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