We’re all used to seeing films about broken-down musicians, but broken-down magicians? Based on the evidence of The Incredible Burt Wonderstone, it’s a category best left unexplored.
The film opens with a young boy being chased by bullies. He arrives home breathless, only to find a note from his mother, wishing him a happy birthday, and leaving him instructions to fix his own birthday cake, informing him that she has to work a double shift.
His disappointment is tempered by his birthday present, a magic kit.
From that point, there’s no looking back for the young Burt. Tentatively performing his tricks at school, he captures the interest of the asthmatic Anton, a fellow outcast. The two team up to practice, and presto, the bullies disappear — like magic.
Flash forward to adulthood, where the pair is billed on the Las Vegas strip, with the cheesiest magic act imaginable. They’ve been performing together for years, and it strains credibility to imagine how they ever made it to Vegas with such lame material.
Wonderstone (Steve Carrell) is an unbridled egotist who constantly hits on his female assistants. His sidekick Anton Marvelton, played by Steve Buscemi, eventually snaps under the weight of playing the hapless second fiddle to his detestable colleague.
When their boss terminates the pair’s contract, as he should have done on day one of their engagement, Anton drifts to Africa, where he gives out magic kits to starving kids. Burt is reduced to doing his stale tricks for the residents of an old folk’s home, where he’s heckled by Rance Holloway, played by Alan Arkin. Holloway is the magician who designed Burt’s original magic kit, and whose smarmy visage on the accompanying video so inspired young Burt.
There’s nothing inspiring or exciting about anything that goes on in this film, except perhaps the twisted masochism of Steve Gray, a street magician and competitor played by Jim Carrey, whose claim to fame consists of holding in his urine for twelve days and sleeping on a bed of coals.
The film’s grotesque denouement takes place when the reunited Burt and Anton try to top Gray’s antics by promising their audience that they’ll all disappear from the theatre (No, they don’t walk out en masse). We see gas-masked attendants spraying an overpowering agent through the hall, dragging the sleeping throng outside, seating them in chairs set up for the occasion and then reversing the sleeping process.
It’s the ultimate in bad taste for a film that lacks any taste to begin with, and should probably never have been made.
The Incredible Burt Wonderstone plays at the Qwanlin Cinema at 6:50 and 9:00 pm, and is rated PG.