Movie Review: The Incredible Burt Wonderstone

I’m going to start writing movie reviews. I figure every Friday, I’ll look at the week’s new releases, I’ll pick one at random, go see it, and then review it. So today was the first day. Unfortunately, I chose The Incredible Burt Wonderstone. I guess it was kind of subpar week for new releases. My options were this or The Call, which labeled itself as a low-budget thriller starring Halle Berry. It was a tossup, but Burt Wonderstone was showing earlier, and I figured I’d get it out of the way earlier, before I have to go to work tonight.

I don’t want to be overly negative. I hate reading movie reviews where everything is about how bad the movie was, how unfunny all of the jokes were, how positively unwatchable everything turned out to be as whole. So I want to start with something positive. Here it is: While I was watching Burt Wonderstone, I didn’t die. As far as I know, everybody else in the theatre escaped equally unscathed.

That’s all I’ve got. In all honesty, the movie was terrible. It stars Steve Carell and Steve Buscemi playing Burt Wonderstone and Anton Marvelton, two childhood misfits that find solace and friendship in their shared love of magic. We experience their start as kids, learning all about magic from some boxed magician set, complete with a VHS of Allen Arkin playing Rance Holloway, an older magician.

Anybody who saw DodgeBall will notice the almost exact same bit being stolen directly from the VHS of old dodge ball pro, Patches O’Houlihan. As soon as I saw them pop in that cassette, I knew it would be a total rip-off, that sometime later one of the main characters would find Rance as an old washed up magician, that he would help them overcome whatever problems the story might throw their way.

Anyway, cut to the present day, Wonderstone and Marvelton are famous magicians hosting a nightly show at some Vegas hotel. There are a few cheap shots, some sort-of gay jokes, “We have a magical friendship / We always knew we weren’t like other boys,” and the usual over-the-top in-your-face sex jokes. After insulting his magician’s assistant to the point where she walks off stage, Wonderstone picks a female volunteer from the audience. After the show, we see the woman signing a release form in Wonderstone’s penthouse, agreeing that she is providing consent to all of the various sexual acts they will be performing.

The rest of the story is pretty cliché. The duo’s magical act is getting stale. A threat arises in the form of Jim Carrey, who plays Steve Gray, one of these edgy street magicians, a weird combination of David Blaine and Chris Angel. Gray’s show is called “Brain Rape,” a not at all subtle or funny jab at Angel’s “Mind Freak.” This all might be clever if “Human Giant” hadn’t successfully parodied all of this stuff years ago. As Gray’s star rises, Wonderstone and Marvelton lose their audience. They get in a fight, they split up. What follows is the typical riches to rags to personal epiphany to reunion to comeback story.

Great, terrific. Yes, I could go on about how the movie is totally uninspired, how it blatantly tries to copy movies like DodgeBall, like Anchorman, like every other big budget comedy movie. I could write about how the supporting cast is made up of has-been TV typecast actors, James Gandolfini, Britta from “Community,” Raymond’s cop brother from “Everybody Loves Raymond,” plus lots of old SNL faces I haven’t seen anywhere else in like ten years. The whole cast, they’re like crabs trying to get out of a barrel, clawing every which way in a futile effort to somehow stay famous, to be relevant. At one point Carell goes to a retirement home in Las Vegas. He walks in and goes, “So this is where old entertainers go to die.” This movie has to be self-aware.

It’s all of the bloat of big Hollywood, the bad writing, the terrible acting, all in a one and a half hour snooze fest. The studio must have been aware of this, must have been conscious that the film was unwatchable. The finale involved the two magicians drugging their entire audience unconscious. I wish they would’ve handed out samples for us on the way in.

But the real problem with this movie is that it’s just not funny. The jokes were awful. I only laughed once, mildly, at a minor scene where Buscemi, having left for Cambodia to provide magic to the poor (Operation Presto,) gives some little kid a rabbit to pull out of a hat. We see the little kid walking the animal off screen as he pulls out a huge knife. Also, Wonderstone’s hair goes from long to short, back and forth multiple times throughout the course of the film, with no explanation. That was kind of funny.

Steve Carell screams a lot. Jim Carrey makes Jim Carrey faces and Jim Carrey noises. We’ve seen stories like this a thousand times, with the same endings, the same one-dimensional romances. The girl hates the lead. The lead tries to seduce her all while calling her the wrong name throughout the entire movie. She’s disgusted. He has his personal epiphany. He calls her by the correct name. Now she’s in love. Now she’s having sex with him. Her reward is a promotion, from magician’s assistant to magician’s opening act. Go women. How liberating.

Whenever I watch really bad comedies, I always get to a point probably three quarters of the way in where I’m just like, this sucks, I’m bored, I don’t want to have to finish this movie, and it’s taking forever. This movie was way too long. I was struggling to pay attention. I was thinking, how do they get away with making boring movies like this? They definitely cost millions of dollars to produce.

And then I remember being in high school, after I first got my driver’s license. I remember being free, for the first time, I didn’t have to ask my parent’s to take me to the movies, I didn’t have to answer their, “What movie are you going to see?” followed by, “I don’t know, that sounds inappropriate.” I’d go see all sorts of shows, finally, movies I wanted to see, adult movies. I’m remembering stuff like American Pie 2, Shallow Hal, Austin Powers 3, Some ping-pong movie with Christopher Walken.

That’s how they get you. They make these movies for adults, but market them to little kids. Adults leave their kids at home to watch these terrible comedies. Kids sit at home and wish they could go and see adult movies. Adults come home, disappointed, because nobody can watch this junk. But the damage is already done, the kids are totally primed to get their driver’s licenses and head out to see whatever’s opening up on Friday night. Then they have their own kids and leave them at home. It’s generation after generation of big movie studios making terrible movies and robbing us blind, laughing all the way to the bank.

At one point, Wonderstone and Marvelton try to do a Blaine-esque spectacle where they sit in a glass box suspended in the sky for a week. As they get hoisted up, some producer shouts at them, “Remember, all you have to do is nothing!” I think everybody involved in this movie took those instructions a little too strictly.

Don’t see it. If you were going to see, and didn’t because of this review, I just saved you thirteen bucks. I’m not saying I deserve all of those thirteen dollars, but if you could give me five, that would nice.

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