The film tells the story of Burt Wonderstone (Steve Carell) and his friend and partner, Anton Marvelton (Steve Buscemi), two boys who escape lonely childhoods and neighborhood bullies through the redeeming force of magic. They land their own show on the Las Vegas strip and astound audiences with their velvet costumes and “amazing” tricks, only to be threatened by decreasing popularity and competition from street magician Steve Gray (Jim Carrey).
Unwilling to change his show lineup or share the spotlight, Burt loses his friend and his job and finds himself living in a motel doing card tricks for disinterested seniors at a nursing home. During this time, he meets Rance Holloway (Alan Arkin), the magician who first inspired him to practice magic, and together the two embark on a quest to revive Burt’s show, reunite him with Anton and prove to the world just how magical Burt Wonderstone is.
Aided by assistant Jane (Olivia Wilde), Burt, Anton and Rance enter a competition awarding a gig at an enormous casino run by their former employer, a gig they land with their dazzling “‘Disappearing Audience” trick.
This movie encounters its first problem with the premise: magic is just not that inspiring. Yes, the film seeks to find the humor in big-ticket Las Vegas magicians, but at the end of the day, audiences are not that invested in premises they find ridiculous.
The second problem is the reliance upon big-name actors to carry a weak script. The jokes are not funny, and the reunions are not touching. The strain in delivering the lines is visible on the actors’ faces. Olivia Wilde’s comedic timing — and bone structure — are too good for her role of Jane (aka The Girl in the Tight Dress or The Implausibly Attractive Love Interest). Her forced flirtation with Carell is nauseating rather than cute, and, in a few cases, their scenes cross the line into disgusting.
And therein lies the final, and perhaps most severe, problem with this film: its reliance upon shocking and disturbing physical humor. The tricks performed by Steve Gray, a parody of Criss Angel, are essentially displays of pain tolerance designed to disgust and distress audiences. In one scene, he makes a dollar disappear before slicing open his cheek and pulling it out; in another, he lies down on a bed of hot coals and remarks that he can smell his own charring flesh.
In a final, ironic twist, the film seems overly aware of its own shortcomings.There is no magic to be found anywhere.
“The Incredible Burt Wonderstone” runs 100 minutes and is rated PG-13 for sexual content, dangerous stunts, a drug-related incident and language.