Advertisement
  1. Arts & Entertainment

Review: 'The Incredible Burt Wonderstone' missing a trick or two

Steve Buscemi is Anton Marvelton and Steve Carell is Burt in The Incredible Burt Wonderstone. It also stars Jim Carrey.
Published Mar. 13, 2013

By Steve Persall

Times Movie Critic

As a better movie taught us before, a magic trick has three stages, two of which The Incredible Burt Wonderstone executes well.

There's the pledge, an ordinary object that will be transformed into something extraordinary in stage two, the turn. Then there's the prestige, the third stage when something completely unexpected and incredible happens. The Incredible Burt Wonderstone does take a nice mid-trick turn and displays prestige in its finale. But the pledge, the setup, is all wrong and for the first half hour so is the comedy.

Now you laugh at it, now you don't.

The failed pledge in this movie is Steve Carell, who ordinarily seems like a nice guy even when he's playing insufferably dopey on The Office, or insufferably insecure in Little Miss Sunshine. Carell plays Burt Wonderstone, a Las Vegas magician who is just plain insufferable for the first third of Don Scardino's movie. Burt is a sexist pig, a preening prima donna despite his stage partner since childhood, Anton Marvelton (Steve Buscemi, who isn't suited to such silliness).

Burt is not a nice guy or, as it turns out a funny character until he's humbled and Carell's innate charm as an actor is allowed to emerge. Burt and Anton are on top of the magic biz until they're not, when the act splits up from sheer fear that their feats of prestidigitation are now obsolete. The reason for this feeling is the movie's turn, an infusion of comic genius so long unseen in movies that it was practically forgotten.

The genius is Jim Carrey, dropping the serious actor pose and again letting loose the rubber face and implausible physicality that made him a star. Carrey plays Steve Gray, a bull's-eye spoof of David Blaine and Criss Angel's brand of masochistic magic. Steve is a performer who'll endure three days of not blinking or 12 days without urinating and call it a mystical breach of reality. Audiences eat it up; Burt and Anton barf it back.

The Incredible Burt Wonderstone then doubles down on the wacky humor Carell and Buscemi don't have written for them. The irrepressible, irreplaceable Alan Arkin shows up as the old-school magician whose home tricks kit started Burt and Anton on the road to success and less. I will go to my grave declaring any movie will be better if Arkin appears in it, and hold up this one as proof.

The professional rivalry between Burt and Anton, and theirs with Steve, finally gains traction as the finish line appears. The third act of Scardino's movie is very funny, and its finale featuring the exposure of an impossibly successful illusion is flat-out brilliant. It's just too bad that the movie's opening act is so sleight of humor, damaging the movie's potential. Now you see it. Then you don't.

Steve Persall can be reached at persall@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8365. Follow @StevePersall on Twitter.

ALSO IN THIS SECTION

  1. Evander Preston inside his gallery Evander Preston Contemporary Jewelry Design in Pass-a-Grille. The portrait of Preston (left, top) was done by Adam Terkel. The carved wooden sculpture of a white dinner jacket to Preston's right was done by Tampa artist Fraser Smith. Preston died on Sept. 14. Times (2007)
    His gallery and his eccentric presence have been a constant in the St. Pete Beach area for decades.
  2. Celebrity chef and restaurateur Fabio Viviani inside Osteria in downtown Tampa. OCTAVIO JONES  |  Tampa Bay Times (2018)
    The high-end spot is called La Pergola, and it’s set to launch next year.
  3. Rapper NF will perform at the Yuengling Center in Tampa on May 1, 2020. John Taylor Sweet
    The two rappers have announced shows in the coming months, including one for USF’s Homecoming week.
  4. Margaret Loflin leads Maggie on the Move, one of the local food trucks set to serve at Flavors of Asia. Tampa Bay Times (2012)
    Food trucks offer Flavors of Asia in St. Petersburg, plus the Palladium presents ‘Crossing the Bay’ and Howl-O-Scream invades Busch Gardens.
  5. A camera crew films a manatee rescue at ZooTampa at Lowry Park as part of National Geographic's 'Secrets of the Zoo' series. ZooTampa at Lowry Park
    The series Secrets of the Zoo came to ZooTampa at Lowry Park.
  6. KFC's latest creation features donuts. KFC
    You can’t get these in Florida yet, but the new menu items are already popular on social media.
  7. REO Speedwagon will perform at Clearwater's Ruth Eckerd Hall in Clearwater on March 1, 2020. Courtesy of Randee St. Nicholas
    REO Speedwagon, Gladys Knight, Kidz Bop, Art Garfunkel and more.
  8. Tampa investor and owner of the Tampa Bay Lightning Jeff Vinik, right, speaks about his investments in the video game industry at the eSports Summit Wednesday in Tampa as Matt Samost, Vice President of New Ventures for Tampa Bay Sports and Entertainment looks on. LUIS SANTANA   |   TIMES  |  Tampa Bay Times
    A summit at USF brought together major players and explored the possibility of an esports arena.
  9. Zongo IPA Tampa Bay Brewing Company
    The hazy New England-style IPA is on tap at the brewery’s tasting rooms in Ybor City and Westchase. | Craft beer of the week
  10. Michael Francis leads a community chorus during one of the Florida Orchestra's Sing Out Tampa Bay sing-alongs. MICHAEL FRANCIS  |  Florida Orchestra
    The music director is entering his fifth year with the orchestra, which has a Beethoven-heavy season opening Sept. 27 in Tampa.
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement