Beware the Ides of March, by which time expectations have been so lowered by mid-winter dreck that movie audiences can easily mistake mediocrity for genuine merit.
On any other date, The Incredible Burt Wonderstone would be seen for what it is: a generic, fitfully funny mainstream comedy that doesn't nearly get the best from its name-brand players but doesn't qualify as a desecration, either. Opening as it does on March 15, this half-baked, over-processed shrug feels like a veritable breath of spring, clearing away the cobwebs of dreary Die Hards, slack Giant Slayers and grating and pitiful Ozes.
In many ways, The Incredible Burt Wonderstone possesses all the structural elements that have worked in the past for its star, Steve Carell: He plays a cheesy Las Vegas magician (the title character) who has worked with his best friend and partner, Anton Marvelton, for 30 years when their livelihood is threatened by a streetwise newcomer. But viewers expecting the kind of chemistry that made The 40 Year-Old Virgin and Anchorman big hits will need to adjust their assumptions: Here, Carell's sidekick is played by Steve Buscemi, who has his own special brand of bug-eyed appeal, to be sure, but is essentially a straight man to Carell's strutting, self-tanned diva.
When Jim Carrey shows up on the Strip as hipster stunt artist Steve Gray, any hopes of comic riffing between him and Carell are soon dashed by the realization that, true to his character, he barely registers his co-stars' presence. Burt Wonderstone is best appreciated not as an ensemble of inspired talents but as the convergence of very funny actors who are all starring in their own little movies.
Still, Burt Wonderstone magically produces its share of modest laughs: With his ombre-blond hair and tribal tattoos, Carrey does a magnificently deranged job of skewering the inane hijinks of such performers as David Blaine and Criss Angel.
Carell, more reserved than usual, channels Siegfried, Roy and David Copperfield (who good-naturedly shows up for a cameo) to create a character who will never end up in his classic repertory but allows him some clever visual humor nonetheless. (One of the few memorable bits in Burt Wonderstone is Carell's one-man rendition of an undoubtedly two-man routine.)
In the hands of better writers, Carell and his co-stars would have had more to do in Burt Wonderstone (he's joined here by Olivia Wilde, James Gandolfini and Alan Arkin); as it stands, the movie's saggy, formulaic plot and Don Scardino's stodgy direction lead viewers from sight gag to punchline to sight gag, culminating in a perversely amusing final sequence that, one suspects, also serves as a darkly apt metaphor for the filmmakers' own feelings about their audience.
Like the playing cards, scarves and other tricks up its protagonists' sleeves, The Incredible Burt Wonderstone is momentarily diverting, but it's also destined to disappear quickly.
-- Washington Post
Excerpts of select reviews of The Incredible Burt Wonderstone:
Carell doesn't give us enough to root for. Burt is a jerk, pure and simple, with the charm missing. Sure, in the predictable story he slouches toward redemption, but at a certain point, it's too late to care.
-- Bill Goodykoontz, Arizona Republic
This comedy is, ultimately, a lighthearted distraction, but "incredible" it is not.
-- Marjorie Baumgarten, Austin Chronicle
With a cast this well-stocked with comedy talent, you'd think just a few more laughs wouldn't feel like such a reach... a movie for eight-year-olds who haven't seen a lot of movies.
-- Marshall Fine, Hollywood & Fine
Too cautious and unimaginative to bring off what a great magic trick -- or comedy -- should do: make us laugh out loud with surprise.
-- Owen Gleiberman,
The Incredible Burt Wonderstone
Starring Steve Carell, Jim Carrey and Steve Buscemi.
Grant Park, Kildonan Place, McGillivray, McGillivray VIP, Polo Park, St. Vital, Towne
two and a half stars out of five