Review: The Incredible Burt Wonderstone (2013)



Director: Don Scardino.

Starring: Steve Carell, Steve Buscemi, Olivia Wilde, Jim Carrey, James Gandolfini, Alan Arkin, Jay Mohr, Michael Bully Herbig.

Running Time: 100 minutes.

Certificate: 15.

SynopsisAfter spending years at the top of their game on the Las Vegas strip, childhood friends Burt Wonderstone (Steve Carell) and Anton Marvelton (Steve Buscemi) are losing their audience to outrageous street magician, Steve Gray (Jim Carrey). With the help of their assistant Jane (Olivia Wilde), the duo search for the ultimate illusion to win over a new generation of fans.

Having directed nearly forty episodes of 30 Rock, Don Scardino is no stranger to offbeat comedy, but The Incredible Burt Wonderstone is a refreshing surprise for an audience who have become increasingly comfortable amongst the current run of Apatow-schtick. Penned by two of the writers behind Horrible Bosses, there are some thigh slapping one-liners, but the film is all the richer for not completely saturating itself with jokes, instead becoming a master class in how to keep repeated gags consistently funny amidst cameos and satirical jabs.

Worlds apart from the young child who was amazed and awed by the great Rance Holloway (a scene stealing Alan Arkin) after receiving a magic kit from his oft-absent mother, modern-day Burt is affected, egotistical and selfish. Brilliantly played by Steve Carell, it’s hard to decipher quite where the bravado ends and Burt begins, but he is undeniably a showman through and through – a showman who is able to demonstrate his skills in Las Vegas’ biggest bed.

This may be no kid’s film, but the opening and rather saccharine pairing of the young Burt and Anton is just one example of how the contradictory tones lull you into a false sense of security. With their childhood affinities and love of magicbinding them together, the longsuffering and rather simple Anton is constantly the butt of the joke, with Buscemi a delight as the spritely well-coiffed magician that turns sour after years of abuse. Luckily, help comes in the form of their assistant Jane, with Olivia Wilde once again showcasing her unique magnetism with a rare, natural sensibility.

But it is Jim Carrey who comes out on top, returning to a role more inline with his signature comedic style. Dangerous and spontaneous in comparison to Burt and Anton’s polished and well-rehearsed routine, Steve Gray is an anarchic, sexy rock and roll magician who will guarantee to leave you with tears streaming down your face. Though it’s safe to assume that The Incredible Burt Wonderstone involves a lot of improvisation, it’s always reined back just enough to keep it from losing track of its central story. Gray’s final bow out may not be as explosive as you’d perhaps anticipated, but Burt and Anton’s most certainly is, reaffirming the notion that their lives are all about the act and less about the audience they are entertaining.

A riotous and unquestionably original comedy, Don Scardino utilises his cast to the best of their ability from Gandolfini’s knockout Mandy Patinkin joke to Mohr and Herbig’s brief but memorable appearance as Rick the Implausible and Lucius Belvedere. Offering more than constant bickering and magic, it is testament to Scardino that his film feels incredibly relevant and fresh in a time of Derren Browns and Dynamos when mainly focusing on the old-school sleight of hand.

All about the performance, no matter the stakes, by the time we reach the final show you will buy everything you see, even when fully aware of the advantages of camera trickery. With a sidesplitting and jaw dropping reveal to lead you into the credits, by the time Burt and Anton vanish in a puff of smoke, you will have fallen completely under their spell.

Verdict: 4/5

The Incredible Burt Wonderstone is released in UK and US cinemas on March 15th.

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