As the title magician in the comedy The Incredible Burt Wonderstone, Steve Carell executes a magic trick guaranteed to astonish an audience. He changes a prima donna - arrogant, insensitive and egotistical - into a figure worthy of sympathy and rooting interest. Like all other great illusions, the trick is far from simple.
As the title magician in the comedy The Incredible Burt Wonderstone, Steve Carell executes a magic trick guaranteed to astonish an audience.
He changes a prima donna — arrogant, insensitive and egotistical — into a figure worthy of sympathy and rooting interest.
Like all other great illusions, the trick is far from simple.
With his partner since childhood, Anton Marvelton (Steve Buscemi), Burt has headlined a Las Vegas casino show for 10 years, performing the same “magic” stunts in a sequined jumpsuit and leonine wig.
Success has turned Burt into a major jerk who ridicules his partner, fires female assistants on the spot and regularly beds the “volunteer from the audience.”
The audience has gotten smaller as the act has gone stale, and the casino owner (James Gandolfini) has noticed.
Meanwhile, a new force has arrived on the Strip: Steve Gray (Jim Carrey) is a street magician and cable-TV star who amazes crowds by inflicting grotesque punishment on himself. His act is inspired more by Jackass than by Houdini.
After his partner abandons him, Burt spirals toward an overdue downfall, landing him in a fifth-rate motel and a job performing sleight of hand in a retirement home.
Everyone in the audience knows that the comedy will lead Burt to redemption, but Carell still manages to make us root for a well-established crud. It might help that his hair calms down as he hits rock bottom.
Although the turn of direction is expected, the movie manages to surprise us with its twists of plot and a generous sprinkling of laughs while avoiding easy sentiment.
Buscemi provides a reliable foil for Carell. Alan Arkin has sage moments as the magician who first inspired Burt, while Olivia Wilde makes an impression in the underwritten role of Burt’s sharp assistant.
Carrey makes the most of his few scenes in what is essentially a supporting role without abandoning his old flair for excess.
Although the leads seem to have learned some rudimentary tricks, most of the “magic” is of the movie variety — including some illusions that the world’s greatest magicians probably couldn’t pull off. Fortunately, most fly past too quickly to disrupt the comedy.