The Incredible Burt Wonderstone is Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby with Steve Carell, Steve Buscemi, and Jim Carrey standing in for Will Ferrell, John C. Reilly, and Sacha Baron Cohen respectively. Really, that shouldn’t be such a bad thing. Will Ferrell’s comedies are remarkably stupid, but I’ve found most of them funny. Yet the result of Steve Carell’s attempt to make his own Will Ferrell movie is remarkably bland and laugh-free.
Carell stars as Burt Wonderstone, a pompous, sexist magician who headlines one of Las Vegas’ most lucrative casinos. Wonderstone and his partner, Anton Marvelton (Steve Buscemi) serve as a parody of the kitschy magic acts of yesteryear. They perform many classic sleights of hand while engaging in intentionally horrible banter for their sold out audience. It’s hokey, but the duo is successful, and Wonderstone is given a free pass to be an asshole to everyone around him.
Wonderstone’s world is shaken, however, with the arrival of Steve Gray (Jim Carrey), a new, edgy street magician in the vein of shock artists like David Blaine. Since all Will Ferrell comedies require their protagonist to be humbled before they can be redeemed, Gray immediately steals Wonderstone’s spotlight. Gray also happens to be an even bigger asshole than Wonderstone.
Does Burt Wonderstone lose his posh hotel suite and legions of adoring fans? Of course. Does he alienate his best friend? Yep. Is there a plucky, attractive woman who stays by Burt’s side even after he’s been abandoned by everyone else? Absolutely, and this time the role is filled by the incredibly attractive Olivia Wilde. Is there a lengthy montage where Burt regains his mojo? You bet. Does Burt eventually come back from obscurity as a considerably more mature and well-rounded human being? Look, it’s a fucking Will Ferrell movie without Will Ferrell; The Incredible Burt Wonderstone goes down the entire checklist of clichés.
However, The Incredible Burt Wonderstone lacks the sort of stupid, madcap energy that fueled Will Ferrell’s collaborations with writer/director Adam McKay. Movies like Anchorman, Step Brothers, and Talladega Nights may be piss poor from a purely technical standpoint, but a sort of infectious glee emerges from the mostly improvised flicks. The sight gags and one-liners flow freely and quickly. Those movies may leave some audience members rolling their eyes, but you can’t say they’re boring. To the wrong person, they may be infuriating, but never boring.
The Incredible Burt Wonderstone is fucking boring and it’s not just because the story is completely clichéd, it’s because the ratio of jokes to dead time is abysmal. Watching the egotistical Wonderstone get knocked down a few pegs should be funny, but somehow it isn’t. That’s mostly because Carell and Buscemi aren’t given anything to do. The world of Las Vegas hack performers is ripe for ridicule, but the movie really doesn’t take advantage of the opportunity. Everything is remarkably dry and muted, but not in a clever, Wes Anderson kinda way.
The movie’s saving grace is the wild energy Jim Carrey brings to the production. Here, he’s back in Dumb and Dumber territory. The incredibly douche-y Steve Gray engages in a number of grotesque stunts in order to stay at the time of the Vegas food chain, and each stunt gives Carrey an opportunity to showcase his recently neglected slapstick skills. In one sequence, Gray hammers a nail into a table using nothing more than his forehead; in another hilarious sequence, he dresses up as a piñata and orders people with baseball bats beat him until candy spews out of his mouth. It’s a performance that is incredibly stupid and hilarious.
But, Carrey is mostly relegated to the background. Carell, Buscemi, Wilde, James Gandolfini, and Alan Arkin all receive more screen time even though they’re not given anything to do. I believe this cast is ideal for a slapstick comedy, but scenes stretch on interminably without anything funny happening. The writers vomited out a listless movie and the cast and crew apparently never improvised to make up for the joke deficit.
Like so many mainstream movies that have come out over the past several weeks, The Incredible Burt Wonderstone is a missed opportunity. The premise for the flick is ideal and this cast is perfect for a madcap, Will Ferrell-styled comedy. However, the screenwriters and the director really dropped the ball here. Even if you enjoy dumb comedy, stay away from this one. Just wait until all of Jim Carrey’s scenes are uploaded to YouTube eight months from now and watch them there.