The Incredible Burt Wonderstone
I’m not sure if signing on as a Las Vegas lounge show performer is a wise career move or a last ditch attempt to be on stage. In the case of Burt Wonderstone (Steve Carell) and his long-time friend Anton Marvelton (Steve Buscemi) it appears to be both. As young magicians they ink a deal on the Vegas Strip that brings the illusionists enough fame, free sex and cash to compensate for at least some of the self-esteem issues they suffered during grade school. But after 10 years their routine has grown as uninspired as the velvet, rhinestone-studded suits they wear on stage. And their once adoring audiences have begun to dwindle.
Outside on the streets a new attraction has come to town. Steve Gray (Jim Carrey) doesn’t do traditional magic. Instead he captures the attention of passersby with outrageous stunts like slitting his cheek open with a knife, walking on hot coals and inciting fights. (His act, titled Brain Rape, includes other “stunts” that are easily mimicked and dangerous.) Gray’s goal is to shock rather than entertain, and both his cult following and cable ratings are on the rise.
It’s almost impossible to understand what competition could exist between these two different acts. Yet the hotel owner where Burt and Anton work is so impressed by the crowd response when Steve Gray refuses to urinate for a week that he tells the pair to up their game or forfeit their contract.
However Burt and Anton’s “magical friendship” has of late been a bit tenuous and when their own publicity stunt fails, they find themselves out of work and on the opposite ends of an argument. Unfortunately for Burt, he’s also out of money. Looking for any job he can find, he reluctantly accepts a gig as an entertainer in a retirement home where he meets Rance Holloway (Alan Arkin), the magician who inspired him as a boy.
This parody of lounge acts and reality television never quite captures its comedic timing and often falls as flat as the duo’s one-liners. Even Burt, the sex-driven egomaniac, has become so hackneyed in his sexual conquests that he makes his partners sign a consensual contract before taking them into the bedroom.
The film’s concept of poking fun at everlasting Vegas entertainers, along with the message of staying current and knowing when it’s time to reinvent yourself, should have resulted in many magical moments. Sadly the potential laughs in this movie just disappear with a puff of smoke.