Friday, March 15, 2013

Give much more than slight-of-hand applause to ‘Burt Wonderstone’

By Steve Crum

There is a great deal more than magic and laughs to The Incredible Burt Wonderstone. It also says a hatful of bunnies about audiences and the pervasive, decadent state of entertainment in our society. The fact is many of us have regressed to a gullible, Honey Boo Boo leering bunch. Presto chango, and this Wonderstone comedy touches on that very bar-lowering through one of the wittiest, original, and downright hilarious scripts in years. Add a super cast, headed by Steve Carell. 

TIBW is directed by Don Scardino, a name fresh to feature films but veteran to dozens of TV series, 30 Rock among them. He and screenwriters Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley have fashioned a story centering on trust and brotherly love between two Las Vegas magicians. The illusionists, Burt Wonderstone and Anton Marvelton, are deftly played by Steve Carell and Steve Buscemi. After 10 years as headliners at the same hotel, their act has grown repetitive and stale due to Burt's sexist and demanding demeanor.

In the film’s opening scenes, Burt is shown to be a bullied loner in grade school. That changes when he receives a Rance Holloway Magic Kit as a present. Holloway (Alan Arkin) explains the magic tricks inside the box via a VHS tape, and Burt’s life immediately changes. He performs magic tricks at school and becomes a popular spectacle of sorts, acquiring fellow classmate Anton as both an admirer and magician’s assistant. 

Years pass, and things have gone very well for the two, who now share top billing in Vegas. Unfortunately, thanks to Burt’s demeaning comments and actions, their female assistant quits. Making magic matters worse is the street magician, Steve Gray (Jim Carrey), who performs on the sidewalk outside their hotel. Gray’s act is more “Jackass” sadism than magic illusion. (See opening paragraph regarding the dumbing-down of audiences.) 

Hotel/casino owner Doug Munny (James Gandofini), aptly named, pressures his headliners to change the act, since receipts mirror a change in audience taste from sublime illusion to ridiculous bloodletting.  

Enter Olivia Wilde’s Jane, a magician’s assistant who divides her loyalties between the two acts. Factor in the now retired Holloway, wiling away in a senior citizen home. Without divulging anymore, I have to applaud the ensemble cast for their extraordinary comedic acting. Jim Carrey’s work is his best in years; Steve Buscemi is both sympathetic and funny; and Alan Arkin’s curmudgeonly role fits perfectly. 

A friend recently said to me that this Wonderstone movie should indicate whether or not Carell made the right decision to leave The Office and pursue a film career. After this terrific performance as well as successes in films over the past two years, Carell is definitely big box office. 

The Incredible Burt Wonderstone is mostly predictable, but the finale is unique--and hilarious--to the max. Admitting such, I have to include myself as enjoying sadistic humor, at least to a degree. Hey, I am still a Three Stooges fan. 
GRADE on a scale of A to F: A-
The film's trailer isn't magical, but it covers basic territory:

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