"Not Always So Magical"
Las Vegas magic shows are certainly ripe and ready for plenty of hilarious spoofing. THE INCREDIBLE BURT WONDERSTONE has its funny and even heartwarming moments. However, it’s not always so magical. For example, the foul language is mostly superfluous and gratuitous. And, some of the magic stunts, especially those by Jim Carrey, are unnecessarily gross and violent. Also, one of Jim’s stunts is pretty funny (the one about walking and lying on hot coals), but predictable.
The movie opens with young Burt discovering magic through a magic kit marketed by world-renowned magician Rance Holloway. Both he and another boy, named Anton, have been bullied at school. Burt and Anton develop a lifelong friendship over their love of magic, which helps them make fools of the bullies.
Years later, Burt (Steve Carell) and Anton (Steve Buscemi) have developed the most successful magic act on the Las Vegas strip. However, success has gone to Burt’s head, and his public friendship onstage with Anton has turned to mutual loathing backstage.
The success of Burt and Anton’s act suddenly disappears when a dynamic street magician, Steve Gray (Jim Carrey), bursts on the scene with his edgy act. One of Steve’s tricks is to goad a bystander into punching Steve in the face. Then, Steve slices into the resulting bump on his face with a knife to pull out a bloody card. Steve’s popularity results in a popular TV show.
There’s still a chance, however, for Burt and Anton to salvage their act, and their friendship. But, can Burt make his huge ego disappear and get back in touch with the things that made him love magic in the first place?
Despite the edgy moments, everyone turns in a good performance in THE INCREDIBLE BURT WONDERSTONE. Also, there are plenty of funny and even heartwarming moments. However, the movie never takes off and soars. Part of the problem is that the comedy is interrupted by a couple gross, violent stunts by Jim Carrey, some lewd innuendo, and plenty of superfluous foul language. As our friend, the great producer Ken Wales, notes, foul language virtually halts a story in its tracks. Such is especially the case with BURT WONDERSTONE, where some of the obscene language is just repeated for no logical reason. For example, a couple times James Gandolfini, who plays the hotel owner who showcases Burt and Anton’s act, just angrily repeats some obscenities to portray his anger. The point is made with just one or maybe two obscenities, so why include three or four? It’s overkill, and overkill seems to be the main problem with the direction by Don Scardino (of TV’s 30 ROCK).
In addition to the foul language, BURT WONDERSTONE contains some strong comic violence. For example, in one trick, the Steve Grey character slices his cheek with a knife. Later, he’s shown sewing up the ugly looking cut in his cheek by himself. In another stunt, Steve goes days without urinating and his TV show does a graphic showing Steve’s body filling up with yellow liquid. That said, there’s a very funny confrontation between Steve and Burt at a magic show Burt is doing for a child’s birthday party. This shows that Carrey is much, much funnier when he’s actually playing off another actor’s character. This scene reminds us of the hilarious scene in BRUCE ALMIGHTY where Carrey makes Steve Carell’s newscaster character miraculously say a bunch of gibberish.
Eventually, THE INCREDIBLE BURT WONDERSTONE extols and evokes such things as friendship, humility, the free market, and the wonder that comes when one finds a magical vocation that inspires one’s heart and soul. In this case, the vocation is being a successful stage magician. Thus, BURT WONDERSTONE does have its magical, morally uplifting moments. MOVIEGUIDE® just wishes it had gone without most of its edgier elements. A little bit of that kind of content goes a very long way.
(C, B, PaPa, Ho, LLL, VV, S, N, AA, DD, M) Light redemptive, moral worldview/premise with some strong pagan behavior and some talk about the wonder of stage magic, plus a homosexual joke; about 26 obscenities (including one “f” word) seven strong profanities, and 14 light profanities (mostly MG), plus edgy magician strains to hold his urine for several days and other magician says he’s happy to hold his “poop” for several days if that will make people like him; strong comic violence includes man cuts his cheek and removes a bloody playing card, man scalds his arm with lit candles to make his arm say happy birthday to a child, man drills hole in his head as a stunt but no blood really shown, man goad another man into punching him, boy bully punches another boy, men fall out of suspended glass cage that opens, magician pretends to be hanged on a makeshift gallows, man pretends to crush puppy but he put it down another man’s pants, and man walks and lies on hot coals then screams several times but otherwise acts like the coals still don’t affect him; implied fornication in two scenes, man tricks woman into seeing his naked body in a tub, a homosexual joke, man tries to seduce woman but she’ll have none of it, passionate kissing; upper male nudity and some female cleavage; alcohol use and drunkenness; no smoking but there’s use of a drug that knocks people out and they have no memory; and, egotism and selfishness but rebuked and man does dangerous trick in front of children at a birthday party but he’s chastised for it and for his other dangerous stunts.
THE INCREDIBLE BURT WONDERSTONE is a comedy about a Las Vegas magician whose success goes to his head. As Burt’s illusions grow bigger, so does his ego. When an edgy street magician challenges Burt’s success, Burt loses the only two friends he has. Can Burt make his huge ego disappear and get back in touch with the things that made him love magic in the first place?
Everyone turns in a good performance in THE INCREDIBLE BURT WONDERSTONE. There are plenty of funny and even heartwarming moments. However, the movie never takes off and soars. Part of the problem is that it contains too much superfluous foul language. It also has some gross, violent, edgy comedy. Eventually, THE INCREDIBLE BURT WONDERSTONE extols and evokes such things as friendship, humility, the free market, and the wonder that comes when one finds a magical vocation that inspires one’s heart and soul. Thus, BURT WONDERSTONE does have its magical, morally uplifting moments, but the filmmakers should have edited out so many edgy elements. A little bit of that kind of content goes a very long way.