Magic dance – The Incredible Burt Wonderstone review

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By Simon Miraudo
March 13, 2013

The Incredible Burt Wonderstone gets a lot of mileage out of its stars’ increasingly ridiculous hairdos. I’m not proud to say that they kept me giggling throughout, but they did, and I have to live with that. If a lot of effort was put into hair and makeup, not nearly as much went into the picture’s joke development. Maybe those impeccably coiffed bouffants are director Don Scardino’s attempt at a sleight of hand distraction. His feature film debut relies heavily on the charm of its cast, and assumes the audience will enjoy watching them mug in wigs for an hour and a half in lieu of particularly well-crafted gags. Eh, that’s mostly correct.

Steve Carell stars as Wonderstone, the long lost nephew of Will Ferrell’s equally hirsute – and outrageously deluded – Ron Burgundy (I presume). As a hack Vegas magician, his singular pleasure comes after the nightly show, when he gets to bring a groupie back to his hotel suite. Yet even that procedure has become rote; each date must sign a contract to verify their age, consent, and willingness to indulge in a set series of sexual positions. It’s not all bad: the next morning, after he’s performed a disappearing act, the girls get to leave with a souvenir photo to remember their evening. Look, he could have left nothing.

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When his friendship with long-time companion Anton Marvelton (an adorable Steve Buscemi) disintegrates in a very public, very humiliating fashion, Burt loses his residency at Doug Munny’s (James Gandolfini) casino. Broke, homeless, and unable to get in touch directly with Mr. Luxor for a new gig, he agrees to perform for the elderly at a retirement village. There, he meets childhood hero Rance Holloway (Alan Arkin, sharp as ever), an old pro who helps reinvigorate Burt. Intent on securing a five-year stint at Munny’s new hotel, he plots an ambitious, improved act. Only problem is he has to compete with superstar ‘Brain Rapist’ Steve Gray (Jim Carrey), an illusionist whose primary skill is an astounding aversion to pain.

Screenwriters John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein do a better job here than they did on Horrible Bosses (another comedy built solely on the foundation of fake teeth). Perhaps the work of script doctor Jason Reitman may have played a part in their improvement. Nonetheless, though the chuckles are hearty at times, there are some stretches where misplaced saccharine sweetness threatens to unravel their maniacally strange universe of competing conjurers (something the similar Anchorman avoided expertly). Lyle Workman’s score, taking its cues from those plinky, whimsical compositions from family comedies of the 1990s, does little to help. Now you’re laughing, now you’re not.

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There is, however, an inherent pleasure in seeing not only Carell and Carrey ham it up on the screen, but also Buscemi, Arkin, and Gandolfini. Olivia Wilde is charming as an aspiring musician/grossly age-inappropriate love interest. Scardino, a 30 Rock veteran, is a fleet-footed director, and his movie whisks by in just over 90 minutes. There are also a number of magic tricks – quite clearly fakeries – that are rather entertaining to watch unfold on account of their impossibilities.  The best moment comes right at the end, when we see behind the curtain and glimpse how exactly Wonderstone pulled off his climactic deception. It’s a weird, darkly comic moment. I only wish there were more of them.

3.5/5

Check out Simon Miraudo’s other reviews here.

The Incredible Burt Wonderstone arrives in Australian cinemas March 14, 2013.

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