The meeting of comedy legends Steve Carell and Jim Carrey is the big news here, but how big is that news? Not all their movies are absolutely sidesplitting, even the ones that are meant to be. Carell’s never bettered his first big hit The 40 Year Old Virgin and Carrey’s never improved on, what, Ace Ventura?
But, when they’re funny, they’re funny. And that’s the problem with The Incredible Burt Wonderstone, it’s just not very funny. It’s good natured, and for that, thanks guys, but oh so old-fashioned and a bit faded at the edges, in the nicest possible way maybe. Like the whole art of magic and magicians, it seems to belong to another, gentler era.
Anyhoo, Carell’s the Incredible Burt Wonderstone, who has a long drawn-out falling out with his best pal and magic act partner, Anton Marvelton. They’ve been the twin kings of the Vegas show scene for years, but now they’ve given in to loathing in Las Vegas. Luckily, Marvelton is played by the ever excellent Steve Buscemi, who of course does weird deliciously, even when, like here, it’s the nice version of weird, which, come to think of it, is what he usually does. Buscemi could teach a masterclass on weird. Hell, there’s probably a uni in the States somewhere where he does exactly that. Anyway, nice to have old Buscemi aboard. Though he disappears for some while in this Carell vehicle, there’s still enough of him for good solid impact. He knows his exact place in the thing, which is to support the star. He could certainly be employed as Carell’s glamorous assistant, if only he was more glamorous.
But I digress. Along comes Carrey’s even weirder guerrilla street magician Steve Gray, and he’s a megahit with the populace who cannot believe what outrageous stunts he’s doing. He even draws little crowds in shopping malls! This somehow (I really can’t remember how) spurs the reunion of Carell and Buscemi to get their act (and friendship) back together again by staging their own daring stunt for impresario Doug Munny (who’s only in it for the money, geddit?), the latter played by James Gandolfini, a great actor in the right part, but this isn’t it. He’s required to be jolly and funny, and Gandolfini isn’t either. The movies have so let down Tony Soprano. Why? It’s a mystery.
But, just when things start getting mega dull, there’s a bright spot shining. And that’s Alan Arkin’s old-timer magician Rance Holloway. It’s a rough and ready performance, but Arkin’s really the only one of these talented performers who completely gets away with this, escaping like Houdini with style and some grace. The smiles start, then the chuckles when Arkin’s on screen. Maybe that’s why he won an Oscar when the others didn’t (so far, anyway, admittedly). Let’s be fair, the others are all Golden Globe winners.
The Incredible Burt Wonderstone begs you to like it and find it amusing. It actually wants you to feel bad if you don’t like it. Ditto the performers. I really felt bad after this movie and not that great during it. There was laughter in the cinema, though, in small clusters of people who were obviously relishing it.
(C) Derek Winnert 2013