Apr 14, 2014

[Movies] The Incredible Burt Wonderstone (2013)

When I was a kid, I was rather into magic tricks. I'm not sure why this particular Transformers-obsessed little boy also diverted into the whole magic thing, but it happened. And thus I asked my parents to buy me those little pre-made magic trick sets and even a few books on magic. I even hosted a few magic trick performances at family events and even at school. It was a rather serious thing.

Thus on some degree, the story behind The Incredible Burt Wonderstone sort of resonated with me on some level given it's core premise of a boy being inspired to aspire to the life of a magician. In this case it took things further to that of a Las Vegas magician with an actual theater named after him.

At first I thought the movie would just sort of exploit the tropes of these Vegas magic shows and how they were extremely popular in the 80's. But apparently the goal of this movie was to explore a little beyond that and how our definitions of "magic" have changed over time and sort of resolving the differences between the "traditional" and "modern" styles.

Synopsis: The Incredible Burt Wonderstone is a 2013 comedy movie directed by Don Scardino with a screenplay by John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein. This was all based on a story by Chad Kultgen, Tyler Mitchell, and Daley & Goldstein.

The movie starts with a flashback set in 1982 when a young Albert (Mason Cook) receives a magic trick set as a gift from his mother. The kit was put together by Rance Holloway (Alan Arkin), a famous magician at the time. Given his life as an outcast (complete with stereotypical bullying), Albert dives headfirst into magic as a way to sort of escape the problems in his life. And in time he attracts the attention of another boy at school, Anthony (Luke Vanek), who shares his enthusiasm for magic. The two start to practice tricks well enough to put on little shows until we see them growing up to become the professional magicians Burt Wonderstone (Steve Carell) and Anton Marvelton (Steve Buscemi).

We fast forward to the present day and Burt and Anton continue to perform their two-man act to the delight of Vegas audiences. But one day they encounter a new street magician called Steve Gray (Jim Carrey), although his brand of magic involves rather gruesome and horrifying tricks as featured on his new TV show Brain Rapist. And thus Burt and Anton notice their audience shrinking as more and more people go to witness Steve Gray's latest endurance-related stunt such as not peeing for as long as he can. And thus the pair need to find a way to sort of keep pace with the times or risk losing their Vegas home.

The movie is clearly based on the tropes we associate with some of the big name magicians of recent years. Burt and Anton are patterned after the great 80's showmen like the duo act of Siegfried & Roy complete with chest-revealing costumes and such. The Steve Gray cult is more based on magicians like David Blaine and Criss Angel given the nature of their stunts. And while I don't think this is necessarily some sort of a statement about one brand of magic being better than the other, but it does present an interesting, if exaggerated, contrast between the two.

The pair of Steve Carell and and Steve Buscemi wasn't exactly one that I was expecting to ever see in my lifetime, but there you go right there. And while they certainly presented an interesting enough pair, I didn't necessarily feel that their cameraderie as some sort of a magic duo never really came through. And while the movie contains the obligatory sub-plot about the two breaking up the act, it's not like it felt as if they were a strong team to begin with.

The movie initially meanders around as Burt is unable to keep pace with Steve Gray and pretty much loses everything. It isn't until he ends up performing magic at a nursing home in the movie's second act that things start to recover. I really did enjoy Steve Carell in his TV life on The Office, but here it's hard to appreciate his efforts to ham it up as an aging stage magician.

The movie eventually leads to an inevitable confrontation between Burt and Steve Gray and the way things eventually resolve is cute, but nothing spectacular. I can totally see it happening as a single stunt (similar to the old David Copperfield illusions on TV), but not necessarily as a regular show.

The Incredible Burt Wonderstone was decently funny but nothing all that amazing either. I think I enjoyed some of the magic tricks here and there, but not quite enough to really love the movie. Thus one can only rate this movie as 2 ways that Steve Gray mutilates himself on live TV out of a possible 5.
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