Thursday, July 18, 2013

The Incredible Burt Wonderstone

Is it just me or are comedies getting less and less funny as time goes on? Back in the mid-2000s you could count on a movie starring Steve Carell to be pretty hysterical (well, maybe not Evan Almighty), but lately his films have either gone the serious route (Seeking a Friend for the End of the World) or are just lame (Date Night). The makers of The Incredible Burt Wonderstone probably noticed his inability to carry a film on his own recently and managed to snag a great supporting cast to play alongside him, not unlike the one used for Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, to lend an assist. Sadly, it didn’t help. This is a painfully unfunny flick front to back.

The Las Vegas magician duo of Burt Wonderstone (Steve Carell) and Anton Marvelton (Steve Buscemi) has broken up and lost their long running show due to the arrogant antics of Burt and the increasing popularity of shock illusionists like Steve Gray (Jim Carrey). Can Burt get his act together and rekindle his relationship with Anton?
When I watch a movie, be it a comedy or any other genre, I want to like the main character or characters. If I cannot get behind them there is no point in even watching the film. So when I say that Burt Wonderstone is one of the most unlikable characters I’ve seen in a comedy since Seth Rogen’s Ronnie in Observe and Report, you best believe I mean it. There were times where I was shaking my fist at the screen, saying that if I ever met someone like that in person I’d “kick them square in the taint”. Everything that comes out of his mouth is horribly racist, sexist or insulting in some way or another. Why would the writers intentionally create a character like that? In the end he learns his lesson about friendship and all that, but he’s still a complete jackass. What were they thinking?!

Steve Carell seems to be taking great pleasure in playing such an asshole, so maybe it was this aspect that drew him to the character since he usually plays a well-meaning and awkward sort of guy. Whatever his reasons were, the character grated on my nerves like no other. I’d say he gave a great performance because if that was his goal he certainly achieved it and more.
The rest of the cast is serviceable. Steve Buscemi as Burt’s long suffering co-star is quite amusing and Olivia Wilde… well, she’s smokin’ hot as always. She made me cackle out loud when she was forced to assist the main characters on stage last minute and stumbled awkwardly around like a lost puppy. Jim Carrey still annoys the hell out of me after all these years. He gets a couple of good moments but outside of that I wanted to sucker punch him as much as Wonderstone. The late James Gandolfini (I will miss seeing him on screen) was just okay. I couldn’t tell if he was trying to be funny or not. The standout… Alan Arkin as has been magician Rance Holloway. He is written as an asshole of sorts as well, but he plays it in such a way that it isn’t annoying. He actually comes off as a charming douche, especially when he (wink wink) “dies”.

Writers Jonathan M. Goldstein and John Francis Daley beat around the bush too much and can’t seem to find a decent balance between good natured and insulting humor. The scale tips too deeply into the latter and the script suffers greatly due to it. Sure they do come up with some clever parodies of Las Vegas, Siegfried & Roy and Criss Angel, but when the story focuses on the characters outside their stage shows they are uninteresting and dull. And that final show scene? Is that the most ridiculous thing you’ve ever seen or what?!
Director Don Scardino, who is mainly a television director (Cosby, The Mindy Project, Rescue Me, 2 Broke Girls) shows that he doesn’t have much in the way of a style or vision that doesn’t include the standard tricks you see used in every other movie out there. You can see he’s trying to wring viable comedy out of the cast, but the script blocks that from happening at every turn. I’m not going to say the debacle the film ends up being was completely his fault, but he sure didn’t help matters any.

The Incredible Burt Wonderstone isn’t a very funny comedy, plain and simple. Golden opportunities are wasted along with boatloads of raw talent. While there are some fleeting moments of random hilarity this flick is a big whiff. I was genuinely disappointed at how this turned out in the end.

1.5 out of 5

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