The Incredible Burt Wonderstone

By: David Combest

April 3, 2013

I admit I wasn’t too jazzed about seeing “The Incredible Burt Wonderstone”. The preview gave me the impression that Steve Carell’s character was going to be an egotistical man-child. The movie seemed like the simple run-of-the-mill silly comedy filled with weed & potty humor, not a far of a cry from “Anchor Man” or “Talladega Nights”. I liked Carell’s work in films such as “Little Miss Sunshine”, “Dan in Real Life”, and “The 40-Year-Old Virgin.” Yet, Burt Wonderstone seemed like it would be too silly, something that might be good for a cheap laugh. However, I got to witness Burt’s best trick: making me like the movie.

I was shocked over how well this movie was done. Of course, it has a few flaws and the ending is predictable, but the film had a nice pace that allowed the audience to experience a full story instead of walking away unsatisfied, as though the movie is sitting on the cutting room floor. The humor ranged from silly jokes, to physical comedy, to commentary on what society values as art & entertainment. I would have to say the most surprising part of the movie was that it had this commentary.

The film opens up to the childhood of Burt Wonderstone (then Albert Wunderstein) as he tries to escape a bully who wants to give him a “birthday gift”; after his failed attempt to avoid a beating he goes into his home.  He finds a note from his mother that explains how she is going to have to work a double shift and that she left him a box of cake mix with instructions on how to make it. As Albert eats the birthday cake he made, he opens up his gift that his mother left for him on the dining room table: a magic kit endorsed by a famous magician, Rance Halloway. He befriends Anthony Mertz who is also an outcast like Burt. They start to work on magic tricks together, writing them down in a notebook.

Years later Burt and Anthony (now Anton Marvelton,) are famous magicians who have their own theatre in a high-priced hotel in Las Vegas. The two argue and it is clear that their friendship is on the rocks; Burt has also grown tired of his routine and performing. During a fight with Anton, their assistant quits and Burt recruits a production assistant, Jane, (Olivia Wilde) to be their new assistant. In addition to their strained relationship, they are in competition with a cool, hip street magician, Steve Gray (Jim Carrey.) Steve is drawing crowds away from Burt  and Anton with his physical endurance type of magic. Burt must come back from rock bottom and revise his values along the way in order to climb back to the top.

The film explores the themes of what entertainment is. Burt can be called a “craft magician”: his work tries to spark the imagination. Steve Gray is a “shock” street magician who performs magic tricks that revolve around self-harm. The theme isn’t strongly presented in the movie, just an undertone, but is one that will make people wonder about the state of art and entrainment.

The film does a good job ranging from a dark to silly comedy. Normally, I do not like a mix of serious and absurd, but the film works well, or, at least, better than most. Carell does a great job at playing both a jerk and a sweet guy on his road to redemption. Jim Carrey is perfect in his role as the insane and ridiculous street magician Steve Gray. Steve Buscemi and Olivia Wilde shine as the serious counterpoint to Burt’s bizarre ego (along with adding a few jokes themselves.) The story may be somewhat predictable, but the acting is spot and the film contains pretty strong jokes and scenes that help make this film a pleasure to watch.