The Incredible Burt Wonderstone Review
By Bret Dorman
The Incredible Burt Wonderstone has all the elements of what a great comedy needs. Cast willing to devote themselves to their characters. TV Director moving up to the big time. Simple premise to allow for lots of fun and play.
Unfortunately, Burt Wonderstone also has the one additional element to make it a target for critical and comedic snobs to blast… a famous/recognizable cast.
Normally I find myself a comedic snob. And lately I have been rather cynical. But I went in wanting to like Burt Wonderstone and willing to forgive it for now blowing my mind comedically or providing a billion laughs a minute. In a sea of movies made primarily and/or solely made to make people money, this is more than serviceable at getting a few laughs out along the way.The Story: Burt Wonderstone (Steve Carrell) and Anton Marvelton (Steve Buscemi) are life long friends who became famous magicians. But as newcomer Steve Grey (Jim Carrey) starts to steal their fire, Burt has to look to assistant Jane (Olivia Wilde) and childhood inspiration Rance Holloway (Alan Arkin) to help him remember what being a magician is all about (hint: it’s magic). Also, David Copperfield has a cameo.
There’s a trend going around Hollywood right now of making main characters assholes. This movie is different in one aspect. Yes, Burt goes from underdog to total scumbag, but instead of spending the entire movie like that only to redeem himself in one big sweeping final ten minutes; he sees first hand what being a scumbag is like (from his idol no less) and he spends the last half of the movie apologizing and redeeming himself for the first half. See… Instead of starting out as an asshole, he starts low, flies too high to the sun, falls, and has to pick himself up. The parts where he is unlikable are fun because they are over the top and caricature-ized in a way that make the audience not want to repeat his actions. Most of these movies think the dick head-ish behavior of their douchey main characters are good traits. Here, they are negatives which must be changed.Burt Wonderstone chooses to play it safe most of the time. Not just in earning a PG13 rating (although there are some swears including one F-bomb), but in going for normal humor. I’m fairly certain most great comedies (at least in my book) are ones that come out of nowhere, offer something you haven’t seen before, or feature an unknown trying to make his/her big break. Basically, no great comedy ever came about for commercial success. Airplane!, Dr. Strangelove, The Brothers Solomon, Shaun of the Dead, and Jim Carrey’s year of 1994 (Ace Ventura Pet Detective, The Mask, Dumb and Dumber) are all relatively first time entries from those directors/writers/stars. That means they offered a new spin on the comedy genre or featured such a new charisma it was hard to ignore. I guess the point is, not all comedies need to be groundbreaking. Sometimes, just having enough fun in a formulaic story is good. I know this seems like a negative, but not all comedies need to be funny all the time or shoot for the stars.
That being said, Burt Wonderstone really knocks its biggest laughs out in the first half hour. Watching Burt and Anton perform their actual magic show was a blast. As the movie gets more into the plot (usually a killer of comedies) it still manages to play with its premise and have fun. Little jokes like Jay Mohr staying home “eating popsicle after popsicle” and Anton’s “charity work” are moments that show that even though the movie is going through the motions, its still able to have some fun doing it. I like and respect that.In fact, most people have come out praising Jim Carrey for being the best part. I think that’s because he brings a charisma and energy that elevates the role to something higher than the joke itself is executed. Yes, he’s a ridiculous street magician, but the more screen time he gets the more the joke runs out of steam. Luckily, he’s really not in it much. It’s nice to see him keep his comedic chops wet, but I’m really expecting more out of Kick-Ass 2. I’d have to say Carrell, Buscemi, and Arkin are all fun but Olivia Wilde really sticks out as someone capable of more. I mean, yes, she is stunningly beautiful but she has a lot of untapped talent (insert “I’d like to tap that!” joke here). She constantly is reminding Burt her name is Jane and not Nicole, her stage name that was forced upon her. She even has a nice sweet moment where (nice/second half) Burt asks her out and she sort of accepts, she gives a really nice look of infatuation as she continues her walk with him. It’s those small details that make the difference.
Normally I don’t watch previews but for this movie I managed to catch a few on tv leading up to its release. I don’t understand what most of the critics were expecting. I mean, not that you shouldn’t be critical of even mediocre commercial movies, but a lot of Rotten Tomato (currently 38%) hate is really hyperbolic. Today we live in a world where everything is “best ever” or “worst ever”. Trust me, I’ve seen far worse comedies that commit far worse comedic crimes. Its not the start of a downward spiral for any of the actors involved nor is it s a smudge on their career. It is simply good fun for the sake of a few bucks. I could totally see myself enjoying another viewing when it comes out on DVD (I imagine the extras *could be* a lot of fun if it isn’t just talking heads mixed with clips of the movie).
In Conclusion, I hate to keep saying this like it is a negative but The Incredible Burt Wonderstone is good enough fun. I could be a cynic and say it should have been funnier, or at least aimed higher, but honestly, the attention to the small details is enough to make up for merely being a comedic stepping stone for all involved.
Final Grade: C+
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