By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio 1060
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Steve Carell kick-started his movie career with a hilarious supporting turn as a tongue-tied anchorman in the 2003 Jim Carrey comedy, Bruce Almighty.
Now, a decade later, Carrey returns the favor with an uproarious supporting contribution as a rival street magician in the entertaining Steve Carell vehicle, The Incredible Burt Wonderstone.
Carell, as the egotistical and cynical title character, and an overly restrained Steve Buscemi, as his amiable and accommodating childhood friend Anton Marvelton, are celebrity magicians, old-school illusionists and partners who have gotten rather rich and fairly famous as major attractions on the Las Vegas strip, wowing appreciative audiences with their stale illusions that still manage to knock their audiences’ proverbial socks off. Sort of.
But the biggest illusion has become their friendship, which has pretty much ground to a halt. Thus do they eventually become ex-partners.
However, there’s nothing like a common enemy to bring frenemies together.
That’s what guerrilla street magician Steve Gray, played by Carrey as a cross between David Blaine and Criss Angel, accomplishes with the threat that he represents to them. The fanatical following for his extreme and outrageous offerings makes him a virtual cult leader as he steals Wonderstone’s audience.
And to make matters even worse for Burt, Gray’s attractive assistant, played by Olivia Wilde, used to work for him.
Gray’s devotees respond enthusiastically to the cutting-edge illusions that he concocts and performs, feats of pain-ignoring endurance -– as opposed to what we usually think of as magic, as Wonderstone is quick to point out -– that are so elaborate and mystifying that they make Wonderstone’s act look flimsy and irrelevant.
Which is why James Gandolfini as the billionaire boss of the Aztec casino where Burt plies his trade, demands that Burt change and update his act to attract a younger –- and larger -– audience.
When Wonderstone’s feeble attempt fails, he joins the unemployed and accepts gigs that in the past would have been far beneath his dignity. Like doing tricks for residents of a retirement facility, where he runs into Alan Arkin as the retired magician who first inspired Wonderstone to adopt magic as a way of escaping reality and then to adopt it as his life’s work.
And that’s when Burt rediscovers his magic mojo.
Veteran television director Don Scardino offers up this sporadically funny and occasionally hilarious work, one in which the mix of tones isn’t always smooth or graceful, but is never off-putting.
The screenplay by John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein, based on a story they co-wrote with Chad Kultgen and Tyler Mitchell, goes in a few too many directions at once and thus loses a measure of focus.
But the scenarists make up for it with a sweet silliness and a generosity of character delineation.
Carell and Buscemi underplay in this otherwise broad comedy in a way that allows them to establish a few touching moments in their odd-couple friendship as well. And Arkin, Wilde, and Gandolfini are effective in support.
But it’s Carrey who gets –- and deserves -– the film’s biggest and best laughs.
So we’ll pull a rabbit out of 3 stars out of 4 for a comeback comedy with lots of old-fashioned prestidigitation as well as a good deal of audience-pleasing movie magic.
The Incredible Burt Wonderstone is neither incredible nor credible: it’s just funny.