THE INCREDIBLE BURT WONDERSTONE looked to have the makings of a hit, with a well-vetted cast getting to play around with the trickster art of magic and its flashy ‘Big Show’ aspect as done in crowd-wringer venues like Las Vegas.
Childhood pals bond through their delight in doing magic tricks. Grown up they have become ‘Burt Wonderstone’ (Steve Carell) and ‘Anton Marvelton’ (Steve Buscemi) who’ve perfected an act that brings fame and a degree of fortune as they ply their wiles at the Las Vegas casino hotel of ‘Doug Munny’ (James Gandolfini). Years of slick shtick have Burt & Anton being fed up with each other when a coup de grace to their professional standing comes from the arresting antics of wild man ‘Steve Gray’ (Jim Carrey) whose feats go beyond danger into insanity. His new twist of adding revulsion to repertoire feeds the publics need for sensation, forcing the already frayed Burt and Anton into crisis. Showdown is inevitable.
“Let me tell you about Steve Gray. All that guy does is mumble and cut himself. Anybody can do that. My niece does that.”
Directed by Don Scardino, the tone wobbles; Burt’s too much of a jerk for too much of the running time, the writing by Jonathan Goldstein (Horrible Bosses) and John Francis Daley is scattershot, more mean than mirthful: they went through 15 drafts with four different endings and the indecision shows. This was one of Gandolfini’s last roles before his fatal heart attack—he died three months after it premiered in 2013—he doesn’t look well. Carell and Buscemi are pros but the material is sketchy, especially an ill-advised segment with Buscemi set in Cambodia: laughs mined from misery are a pretty cheap trick. Olivia Wilde is appealing as ever in a wanly-written supporting role, and Alan Arkin, 78, is dredged up to evoke a sympathy quotient as ‘Rance Holloway’, the Old School magician who inspired Burt and Anton. Easily the best performance and funniest, most inspired moments come from Carrey, stepping down to take a secondary role and nailing it (literally): even those naysayers who don’t ordinarily go for his persona will be hard put to diss his committed turn here. Drill, anyone?
Made for $34,000,000, the magic evaporated into weak reviews, then public indifference and lame word-of-mouth made for a major boxoffice dud, vanishing into 103rd place for the year in the States; the global take only amounted to $27,438,000. No sleigh-of-hand accounting could disguise the discrepancy.
With Jay Mohr, Brad Garrett and Gillian Jacobs. David Copperfield does a cameo (he also advised on the tricks). 100 minutes.