‘The Incredible Burt Wonderstone’ Review

Published 2 years ago by , Updated November 18th, 2014 at 3:34 am,

Steve Buscemi Steve Carell Burt Wonderstone The Incredible Burt Wonderstone Review

The Incredible Burt Wonderstone is a generic comedy effort with a few charming scenes – but is very short on memorable enchantment.

Burt Dickenson: The Most Powerful Magician on Planet Earth went through a lot of changes before arriving on the big screen as The Incredible Burt Wonderstone. A number of high-profile writers – including Up in the Air director Jason Reitman – helped shape the core Burt Wonderstone plot: a two-pronged story about friendship and the true power of magic, set against the growing threat of modern “stunt” magicians.

On paper, pitting a pair of Siegfried & Roy-like performers against an up-and-coming David Blaine-like street illusionist presents a smart and humorous juxtaposition. However, does the final film – aided by fan-favorite comedy actors Steve Carell, Steve Buscemi, and Jim Carrey in headlining roles – successfully deliver movie “magic” that will be enjoyable for illusion enthusiasts as well as viewers who expect enchanting characters, not just comedic slight of hand?

While there are a some genuinely funny moments in The Incredible Burt Wonderstone, along with a worthwhile message about magic and friendship, the film follows a very familiar and downright predictable plot progression that audiences will have already seen played to death in similar offerings. In fact, given that “thinking outside the box” is a central point of the movie, the rote movements of the story and a flat performance from Carell serve as a mind-boggeling failure in practicing what you preach. The Las Vegas magician set-up helps to differentiate the film enough for certain scenes and gags to appear fresh (and offer solid laughs) – but overall, it’s clear that multiple writers (and a director change) have muddied the central ideas in Burt Wonderstone.

Jim Carrey Steve Carell Burt Wonderstone The Incredible Burt Wonderstone Review

Steve Gray (Jim Carrey) and Burt Wonderstone (Steve Carell)

Abused by bullies at their school and inspired by world-renowned illusionist Rance Holloway (Alan Arkin), boyhood friends Burt and Anton pass their days mastering illusions in the hopes of one day headlining a Las Vegas show at Bally’s. Sticking together, Burt (Steve Carell) and Anton (Steve Buscemi) are discovered and their act, The Incredible Burt and Anton, becomes a staple for tourists visiting Sin City.

10 years later, the magician duo are going through motions, facing pressure from up-and-coming stunt magician Steve Gray (Jim Carrey) and worn down by the repetition of their Las Vegas lifestyle, resulting in a high-profile fallout that leaves them estranged and unemployed. Disgusted by the state of the magic industry – which now caters to shallow street illusions – Burt goes back to basics in order to rekindle his love of magic and save his career.

In the film, lack of inventiveness leads to the collapse of the famed magician’s Las Vegas show – and as a movie experience The Incredible Burt Wonderstone doesn’t fare any better, since the milquetoast story and characters stifle an otherwise interesting setup. The film actually starts out on a solid step – with Burt as a wide-eyed kid discovering magic for the first time. Yet, as soon as Carell takes over the character, nearly all of the energy is sucked out of the production, as the comedy actor positions Burt as a vain and disillusioned shell. Even as the character grows (along very standard story arcs), he’s too stiff and restrained to be striking. Burt might become a better person, but that doesn’t make him a more interesting or well-realized character.

Steve Carell Steve Buscemi Olivia Wilde Burt Wonderstone The Incredible Burt Wonderstone Review

Steve Carell, Steve Buscemi, and Olivia Wilde in ‘Burt Wonderstone’

A solid roster of supporting players are responsible for the film’s better moments. Buscemi is charming and likable as Anton – especially when juxtaposed against the thin and cartoony portrayal of Burt. Anton, as a person, isn’t really explored and primarily serves as a “face” for Burt’s changing attitude toward friendship, but Buscemi brings appeal that elevates the character – delivering laughs and a much-needed dose of heart.

Jane, portrayed by Olivia Wilde, fulfills a similar purpose, and while the actress succeeds in her efforts, the story outright fails her character, shoving Jane down the most banal path imaginable. As a result, Jim Carrey’s Criss Angel/David Blaine hybrid Steve Gray is the only character with tangible draw. Gray is flat and off-putting but effective as an antagonist – managing to humanize Carell’s vanilla protagonist. It’s a return to comedy form for Carrey as an excessive source for gross-out humor, and in this case it works.

There is fun to be had in The Incredible Burt Wonderstone but the movie still fails to pay-off its central themes and is surprisingly devoid of intriguing magic tricks. Carell and Carrey poke fun at stunt magicians and casino illusionists, but even by the end, the movie doesn’t say anything interesting about either category. Characters are haphazardly thrown together in uninspired setups and while the film spouts one truism after another on the subject of magic, friendship, and even love, none of the ideas are ever exemplified through the actual actions of the characters on screen.

In fact, any imagination presented in the film’s final trick is directly undercut by an over-the-top pre-credits sequence that is only good for cheap laughs at the expense of the characters and narrative (not to mention stretching viewer suspension of disbelief). While Burt Wonderstone and Rance Holloway ruminate about the power of illusion – making people believe in the unbelievable – the onscreen drama does nothing to inspire the same trust or wonderment in the film’s audience.

Steve Carell Olivia Wilde Burt Wonderstone The Incredible Burt Wonderstone Review

Burt Wonderstone (Steve Carell) and Jane (Olivia Wilde)

Instead, The Incredible Burt Wonderstone is a generic comedy effort with a few charming scenes – but is very short on memorable enchantment. Moment to moment, viewers will find reason to laugh, but a muddled story and bland (albeit mostly likable) characters are not enough to make up for underwhelming returns in the central magician backdrop. While Burt Wonderstone derides street illusionists, The Incredible Burt Wonderstone is all style and no substance – a stunt with no magic.

If you’re still on the fence about The Incredible Burt Wonderstone, check out the trailer below:

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The Incredible Burt Wonderstone runs 100 minutes and is Rated PG-13 for sexual content, dangerous stunts, a drug-related incident and language. Now playing in theaters.

Let us know what you thought of the film in the comment section below.

For an in-depth discussion of the film by the Screen Rant editors check back soon for The Incredible Burt Wonderstone episode of the SR Underground podcast.

Follow me on Twitter @benkendrick for future reviews, as well as movie, TV, and gaming news.

Our Rating:

2.5 out of 5
(Fairly Good)

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  1. Sounds like a miscast for Steve Carell but with a script that underserved the premise as well. It’s really too bad it could’ve been so much more. What’s disturbing though is that you can tell that something is off just from the billboards and the stills little lone the trailer…

    • I think they jumped to the conclusion that having a movie with Steve Carell and Jim Carrey interacting in some way means immediate success. People loved “Bruce Almighty” and “Dr. Seuss’ Horton Hears a Who!”

  2. Steve Carell is not funny. He can be funny if the material is very well written by good comedy writers, and he has good direction. I’ve seen so many comedies lately that flopped because of Carell.

    Jim Carrey on the other hand IS funny. Point the camera at him and cut him loose. But if you expect him to rigidly adhere to a script and then be hilarious….. not so much.

    I wasn’t planning on seeing this anyway. Soon as I saw Carell attached I just knew.

    • One of Steve Carell’s best films is definitely Anchorman. He was a hilarious highlight in the movie even though he did not have much lines. I am sure he would do great for Anchorman 2 coming up later this year those type of comedy’s are right up their with what he needs to get back too.

      • Id like to see carrell in more straight roles like little miss sunshine

        • Jim Carrey is more like that obnoxious attention whore kid everyone new in school. Carell can actually do different types of comedy. You should ask Santa for better taste in humor for Xmas.

          • You should watch Carrey’s more serious movies if you haven’t seen them. He definitely has skill. And his upcoming role in Kick-Ass 2 almost looks like a combination of his serious/comedy acting.

            • Just recently watched Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind which i thought was really good. Jim is mostly serious in it and does a good job.

              • I agree with Cave-ish Man.

            • Don’t forget “Man in The Moon”. The only reason he didn’t win an award was because his acting was so real, in fact too real of what Andy Kaufman was like. It was as if you watched the real Andy Kaufman portraying himself. It was that good. Probablay Careys’ best work.

          • Carell was great in “The Office”, “40 Year Old Virgin”

  3. I’m pretty disappointed, was hoping the movie would be a little better than the trailers suggested given the premise. So would you say it’s still not worth catching, if only to watch Jim Carrey?

    • If you’re a fan of Carrey – then it’s probably worth checking out. There are some good laughs in the film. It just falls short on most of its loftier ambitions.

      • Well, I’m a fan of his better work rather than his more tired out kids’ schtick, so if this is a good one (I mean heck, I seriously thought that was Colin Farrell the first time!) then I may just do that if nothing else is playing, or else catch it on DVD when it’s out. Thanks! Great review BTW.

  4. It looks weak as hell to me. This thorough review had no surprises for me. Lamest of all, having really enjoyed diffent kinds of magic over the years, I was unimpressed to see incredibly fake trick after special effect nonsense piled on no actual “magic”. It would have been nice if they had all learned a little “real”. “magic” instead of copping out.

    As for the street magic and endurance stunt stuff, it would be especially cool if someone had the guts to attempt the extraordinary, and that was made know to the audience. I’m not saying Jim Carrey should be told not to pee for days, but some actual effort to capture the spirit of different magic by honoring the effort and spectacle would be nice. Sometimes the films that train and reshape actors are really cool.

    Cruise often dives into his MI roles with ambitious goals, but I also really liked it when The Tailor of Panama began with the lead actor creating a pair of pants, very convincingly, out of sheets of cloth. There were few cuts, if any, and the process appeared intricate and second nature. Military films of high caliber and Bourne type stories often nail this feeling. Faking everything and making stunt doubles handle all the challenge feels very hollow, and even a bit insulting.

    • Fair point, but I’d cut it more slack for playing fast and loose with the actual magic tricks because that seems to be more the setting for the premise, rather than the focus. For instance it could just as easily be about two old-school stage musicians fighting against a new, hip rockstar singer.

      On the other hand, I hope that Now You See Me sticks to ‘real magic’ and doesn’t just use it as an excuse to write the characters out of situations. I really enjoy magic too and it’s always a shame when shows about magic use it as a plot device to cop their characters out of trouble or do nonsensical things.

      • Someone should have udes real magic to make this movie disappear

  5. It was an ok film but had some great lines.

  6. I am just not sure about this one

  7. What a disappointing review to read. I was almost sure it would be amazing. Carrey, Carrel and easy-on-the-eyes Wilde, and they couldn’t make it work? What an awful screenwriter/script that fails to use the talent that was made available to them.

    • Agree!

  8. 100% Pure Magical Garbage

  9. I expected more.