Thursday, March 21, 2013

The Incredible Burt Wonderstone

Are comedy movies funny? I don't remember anymore.
*1/2 out of ****

Just about everything I resent in modern comedy movies can be found in The Incredible Burt Wonderstone: Funny moments that don’t feel strong in the scheme of a film with a weak foundation; a formulaic story; and the notion that talented actors will elevate uninspiring materiel.

Here is a film about a subject that should have the laughs built in. Those laughs must have been installed by incompetent workers during the construction process as they are few and far between. This is a purposeless comedy about magicians, never clear on whether it loves or mocks their trade and doesn’t do a good job at either approach.

Steve Carell wastes his energy in the role of a pompous egotist about to be humbled by the failure to appeal to a changing world. Why isn’t Will Ferrell playing this role? Because he’s played it an intolerable amount of times. Can Steve Carell play a character like this? No. Carell is great at many things but playing a careless jerk isn’t one of them.
It doesn’t matter because the character doesn’t make much sense. The movie starts off with his childhood as he is bullied by peers and neglected by his mother but finds happiness in the discovery of the art of illusion. While performing a trick at school he finds friendship with a fellow reject named Anton, and they form a bond as a magician duo growing up to look like a hetero Siegfried and Roy performing giant Las Vegas magic shows. (Steve Buscemi plays Anton and I don’t know why) The sweet childhood innocence of their friendship during the first few minutes transitions poorly to their adulthood first showing how loyal they’ve stayed to one another and then inexplicably to Burt being an impossible prima donna constantly demeaning Anton.  

One day the two are drawn to the attention of a popular street magician with a reality TV show, played by Jim Carrey, who channels Criss Angel, David Blaine and himself from the early nineties -as a masochistic exhibitionist. He doesn’t wish to be friends with the two and serves as the comedy’s antagonist, trying to steal the spotlight in the world of Vegas magic.

After a strong talking-to by the Casino Owner (James Gandolfini) about the archaic nature of their act, the two decide to step things up and do their own street-performance endurance test but Burt can’t adapt and causes a literal falling out between the two. He then finds out he’s broke and turns to find help from a former assistant played by Olivia Wilde, who in spite of such a likable screen presence, is given a boring love-interest role.

Burt finds work in last resort venues including a rest home when he accidentally meets his childhood hero, a classic magician played by Alan Arkin. The collaboration with Arkin’s character to entertain the old-timers turns Burt into a nice guy, once again lacking a good sense of transition. Is Burt Wonderstone just a mean insensitive buffoon for a good chunk of the movie because that’s what makes a character funny?
Arkin is funny on the occasion that he’s onscreen but it’s Carrey who does wonders with his given character. I am glad he is being humble enough to take supporting roles recently avoiding the responsibility of carrying every movie he is in. Though, this movie is hardly worthy of what he brings to it.  
One of the worst things about The Incredible Burt Wonderstone, aside from the lack of laughs it inspires, is how it is about magic and doesn’t properly display it most of the time. There appear to be plenty of real tricks being performed in-camera but the film’s editing employs too many cuts, destroying their impact. Then the movie treats the subject with total disrespect by showcasing CGI special effects to simulate all the other tricks.
I would have accepted this film as a mean-spirited insincere dark spoof on over-the-top magicians or as an endearing insightful comedy about the love of the profession. This wimpy PG-13 movie sits safely in between those two concepts.
By the end I couldn’t believe all these great people were in a movie that was this stupid. The end credit sequence is maybe the movie’s most hilarious segment but it frustratingly possesses a kind of humor that belonged in every scene that preceded it.
This comedy, like so many I see in a given year, has funny parts but demands a level of complacency from its audience for lazy filmmaking and that is like a bad magic show. You can see through the whole thing and feel no sense of surprise. Instead, you just feel conned.

I take it back. A bad magic show would be funnier. 

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