The Incredible Burt Wonderstone (PG-13, Warner Bros.)

film burt-wonderstone_smThe gags are frequently laugh-out-loud funny; after an outlandishly public falling out, though, the movie stalls.

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Every lonely, picked-on kid needs something to take him away from the disappointing realities of his day-to-day life. Some boys immerse themselves in books or music, but young Burt Wonderstone chose magic. When a simple handkerchief trick catches the attention of a kindred spirit, Burt and his new friend join forces and help change each other’s lives.

As adults, Burt (Steve Carell) and Anton (Steve Buscemi) have the kind of lives that many a bullied loner dreams about. For 10 years, they’ve headlined at Bally’s in Las Vegas and have the riches and attention that go along with superstar careers as magicians. But once upstart illusionist Steve Gray (Jim Carrey) begins to steal their thunder with tricks that shock people to the point of vomiting, their partnership has to weather changes they were never expecting.

The Incredible Burt Wonderstone starts off strong. Anton has stayed true to himself; he revels in making their shows as good as possible. Burt, on the other hand, has let the trappings of fame get to him. He’s more concerned with bedding the latest bimbo audience assistant in his octuple king-sized bed than giving their audiences their money’s worth.

Much of the early comedy comes from Burt’s boorish behavior and Gray’s ridiculous illusions and pseudo-spiritual proselytizing. Those gags are frequently laugh-out-loud funny. After Burt and Anton have an outlandishly public falling out, though, the movie stalls.

I wanted to be more interested as Burt realized the error of his buffoonish ways and tried to recover his love of performing, but his journey toward being a better, wiser person falls (mostly) flat. It almost feels too earnest and all-inclusive for a character contained within a movie like this.

He’s such a steaming douche at the beginning of the film that I think it would have been interesting for him to fight change way more than he does. As it stands now, it seems like Burt was simply acting the way he thought a famous person should act, instead of having honestly become one of those rich jerks we all love to dislike. The latter option just has more laugh-potential.

All in all, the comedic ensemble does a good job. Carell does his level best with Burt. He manages to throw his best jackass at us and still be likeable; a guy we can see has made wrong turns, but who we know can find his way back—and we want to watch him begin to get there. Buscemi’s Anton is probably the nicest, most well-intentioned character he’s ever brought to life. For a man who so frequently plays creeps, losers, and loons, Buscemi fully embodies the put-upon partner of a megalomaniac he once had so much in common with.

Carrey, for his part, tones down his well-worn manic tendencies for Gray. He manages a cool absurdity that gives way to outright lunacy at the right moments. Carrey’s days of rampant movie stardom might be behind him, but he won’t embarrass himself with more work like this. | Adrienne Jones

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