Movie Review: The Incredible Burt Wonderstone is eager to please

In Hollywood, two types of comedies exist -- there are the completely absurd, slapstick comedies featuring larger than life characters or blatant parody, and then there are the more down-to-earth, slice-of-life comedies. Sometimes, in an effort to please anyone and everyone, a comedy will try to accomplish both. It almost never works.

Enter The Incredible Burt Wonderstone, in which Steve Carell plays a pompous, self-centered magician that finds himself losing out to the Criss Angel-esque antics of Steve Gray (Jim Carrey). Wonderstone is Ron Burgundy and Derek Zoolander rolled into one, played by Michael from The Office. Gray is played by Jim Carrey, and, well, he’s Jim Carrey. They’re ridiculous, over-the-top characters fighting for notoriety in the Vegas magic scene. That should be plenty of material for a comedy like this to work with.

The Incredible Burt Wonderstone

But to truly hit all the audience-pleasing checkboxes, you have to have a little heart too. To solve that, The Incredible Burt Wonderstone tosses in some character development and a painfully-forced love interest for Burt. The result is a film that, while often pretty funny, suffers from an identity crisis. It is hit or miss from one moment to the next.

There are a few sparks of brilliance, most of which come from Alan Arkin as Burt’s role model, Rance Holloway. When the film tries to dig for some heart, it’s in Arkin’s character that it actually finds it. On the complete opposite end of the spectrum is Jim Carrey, parodying Criss Angel’s Mindfreak schtick to an absurd and often hilarious degree. In these performances, Burt Wonderstone manages to succeed at both sides of the comedy spectrum, but at the price of ridiculous tonal inconsistencies.

The story follows a very predictable path, showing Burt’s rise and fall, along with all the typical lessons that come along the way. It’s just so hard to buy into his plight, though. It’s really asking a lot of the audience to muster any sympathy for a character so ridiculous.

The Incredible Burt Wonderstone

There’s also the sense that I’ve already been here. Arrested Development parodied all the same stuff, and it did so back in 2003 when it was all actually relevant. The clash between traditional magic and flashy stunts hasn’t really been a thing for quite some time, leaving me to wonder if Burt Wonderstone was one of those scripts that sat in someone’s desk for a year or ten before getting the green light.

At a certain point you have to stop and ask the big question: Is it funny? Comedy can have all the plot holes and tonal inconsistencies in the world, but if it’s genuinely funny it really doesn’t matter. That’s exactly the problem; the film has some really good laughs, they’re just never distracting enough to ignore all the issues. In its effort to please everyone, The Incredible Burt Wonderstone fails to truly please anyone.

2 1/2 stars

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Joe Donato Video games became an amazing, artful, interactive story-driven medium for me right around when I played Panzer Dragoon Saga on Sega Saturn. Ever since then, I've wanted to be a part of this industry. Somewhere along the line I, possibly foolishly, decided I'd rather write about them than actually make them. So here I am.
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