Directed by: Don Scardino
Starring: Steve Carell, Steve Buscemi, Olivia Wilde, Jim Carrey. Alan Arkin, James Gandolfini, Jay Mohr
Put simply, The Incredible Burt Wonderstone isn't. (And, boy, would I like to just leave the review at that.) Either despite or because of a cast of more or less big names, the film remains stubbornly mediocre without ever being actively awful. It's stuck in this dreadful oily neutral of being almost virulently OK. When I had to talk about the film on the radio on Friday afternoon, I found myself stuck with "OK" in response to every question about any aspect of the movie and, ultimately, concluded that you don't need to be convulsed with outright dread should circumstances require your attendance at a showing. I meant that to sound at least not completely discouraging, but it occurs to me now that it's an idea more suited for a stint at the dentist than a trip to the movies. You really ought to get more out of going to a movie than simply not groaning about it — and that's really the best you're likely to get out of this one.
The central problem with Burt Wonderstone lies in the idea that it wants to be this really edgy comedy while retaining a gooey soft center of feel-goodery. I do not suppose that the two ideas are necessarily incompatible but, in this case, they are. The catch is that the film's notions of edgy are mostly limited to filling the proceedings with characters who are either immensely unlikable, terminally stupid or both. It then expends a lot of time convincing you of how awful these people are — especially Steve Carell as the title character — and then wants you to like them without bothering to give you a reason to do so. Presumably, those responsible for this assume we bring enough goodwill toward the performers to carry the day. That raises the question — the very subjective question — of whether or not you have all that much goodwill stored up for anyone involved. I don't.
The premise could have worked: A couple of flashy Vegas magicians — Burt Wonderstone and Anton Marvelton (Steve Buscemi) — find they must reinvent themselves when they are upstaged by a new breed of masochistic stunt performers. But it constantly goes awry or bogs itself down. It does help the film's approach that new-kid-on-the-block, street "magician" Steve Gray (Jim Carrey), is even more loathsome than Wonderstone, but all that really offers is a lesser evil. Dragging in the old wheeze of Burt's ego and causing his partner to walk out on him is, I guess, interesting to collectors of clichés and those who bemoan the passing of the days of Martin and Lewis. But none of this ever adds up to more than a few random chuckles, an almost complete lack of character empathy and a climax so preposterous that it might have come from one of Adam Sandler's worst excesses — or maybe Will Ferrell. The only remarkable thing is that it's all somehow less obnoxious. That doesn't make it any good. Rated PG-13 for sexual content, dangerous stunts, a drug-related incident and language.
Playing at Carmike 10, Carolina Cinemas, Epic of Hendersonville, Regal Biltomore Grande
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