Steve Carell can be kind of a jerk, and we wouldn’t have it any other way.
His signature role on The Office proved he could turn a self-satisfied manager into someone worthy of our pity.
That high wire skill eludes Carell in The Incredible Burt Wonderstone, an ill-conceived comedy which doubles as a parody of the magic world’s sartorial splendor. You’ll laugh–and occasionally wince–at both the fashions and gags on display. You just won’t root for the redemptive arc meant to draw us in.
Carell plays Burt Wonderstone, a Vegas showman who turned to magic as a child to escape the pain of being bullied. His old partner in crime, Anton (Steve Buscemi), is still by Burt’s side after years performing as a duo, but their act and friendship have long grown stale.
Their breakup is inevitable, but the professional threat from a Jackass-style magician (Jim Carrey) threatens to put Burt’s brand of prestidigitation in mothballs. Can Burt rekindle his love of magic in time to resurrect his career, patch up his broken friendship and maybe woo his faithful assistant (Olivia Wilde, utterly wasted) before the final curtain drops?
You simply won’t care.
Carell, who normally infuses even his smarmiest characters with soul, fails to do the same with Burt. He’s a caricature of a Xerox copy, an ’80s reject whose self-absorption leaves little room for sympathy. Even when he meets Rance Holloway (Alan Arkin), the old-school magician who inspired young Burt all those years ago, we’re still not able to rally by Burt’s side.
It doesn’t help that Buscemi isn’t a natural for broad humor, or that Carrey draws the bulk of the laughs as a magician whose only trick involves copious self-abuse. Screenwriters Jonathan M. Goldstein and John Francis Daley smuggle some smart lines between the uninspired plot twists, but Carell’s inability to deliver a consistent, compelling character undermines every last chortle.
There’s a kernel of brilliance in comparing old-school magicians with those who bludgeon themselves for our bemusement, and plenty of fun can be had from mocking how magicians cling to moldy entertainment tropes.
Beyond that, The Incredible Burt Wonderstone has little to say and no reason to root for its star’s redemption.