Published on March 15th, 2013 | by Padraic Coffey


The Incredible Burt Wonderstone (2013)

A commonly employed truism, the originator of which has long since been forgotten, dictates that the secret of comedy is timing. If such an expression is to be believed, one must question the timing of The Incredible Burt Wonderstone. Had this send-up of the Las Vegas magician scene arrived in theatres shortly after screenwriter Chad Kultgen’s original script was bought by New Line Cinema in 2006, it may have made for a satirical classic on a par with This is Spinal Tap‘s lightning-in-a-bottle spoof of 1980s heavy metal music. Arriving as it does several years later, when many of its cultural targets have faded in relevance, younger audiences might feel baffled by what they are seeing. Parodies of David Blaine’s infamous endurance tests and Siegfried & Roy’s career-ending dalliance with a tiger are funny to an extent, but for a generation whose first exposure to Steve Carell was in Evan Almighty, the number of references which will register as familiar is questionable.

The film begins with a brief prologue, in which meek bully-magnet Burt (Mason Cook) is given a magic kit for his birthday, patented to illusionist Rance Holloway (Alan Arkin, with more than a touch of Vincent Price about his appearance). Burt bonds with equally unpopular classmate Anton (Luke Vanek) over a shared love of the art of trickery, growing up the become the headlining double-act The Incredible Burt Wonderstone and Anton Marvelton (Steve Carell and Steve Buscemi, respectively). However, their thunder is eventually stolen by Steve Gray (Jim Carrey), a street magician pioneering a new form of entertaining based predominantly around self-inflicted pain. After a disastrous attempt to ape Gray’s style, Burt and Anton’s partnership dissolves, and the pair must regroup in order to recapture the sense of wonderment with which they initially approached magic.

The feature-film debut from 30 Rock director Don Scardino, reteaming Carell and Carrey after the box-office smash Bruce Almighty, The Incredible Burt Wonderstone promises more than it ultimately succeeds in delivering. Partly this stems from a mélange of contradictory tones. Though we are expected to sympathise with Burt’s plight, he is a thoroughly self-absorbed character, his unpleasantness only slightly leavened by Carrey’s thoroughly obnoxious Grey. Nonetheless, Carrey provides most of the films laughs as a bewildering anarchist, whose feats include pepper-spray blasts to the eyeballs during a staring competition and a abstaining fortnightly from urination. That said, what could have been a much darker film opts for sentimentality on many occasions, and features a final act heavily indebted to that of Martin Scorsese’s otherwise wildly dissimilar Hugo.


About the Author

Padraic Coffey is a freelance writer and film critic who currently lives in Vancouver, Canada. He has written for the Sunday Independent, Ireland's largest circulation newspaper, and Trinity College, Dublin, ranked in the top 100 best universities in the world by the QS World University Rankings in 2014. Additionally, his film criticism has appeared on Volta - Ireland's first VOD website - as well as sites such as Taste of Cinema, Film Jam and Head Stuff.

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