"The Incredible Burt Wonderstone" is all smoke and mirrors.
Granted, this superficial experience comes with its fair share of laughs -- just not enough to register as more than boilerplate redemption story wrapped in absurdist comedy.
Let's face it: Watching grown men do magic is an easy target for comedic gold. Take away that obvious crutch, however, and you can't shake the feeling that our performers are just killing time.
In cinema's latest look at a goofy man-child, Burt Wonderstone (Steve Carell) finds his star fading on the Las Vegas strip. His show, co-headlined by lifetime friend and perennially awkward Anton Marvelton (Steve Buscemi) has become stale in a world where audiences have little appetite for nostalgia and yearn for the next new thing. In steps Steve Gray (Jim Carrey) -- David Blaine and Criss Angel on steroids -- relegating Wonderstone to magician's purgatory, performing at nursing homes, birthday parties and Big Lots.
|'The Incredible Burt Wonderstone'|
|» Rating: 2 out of 4 stars|
|» Starring: Steve Carell, Steve Buscemi, Olivia Wilde, Jim Carrey, James Gandolfini and Alan Arkin|
|» Director: Don Scardino|
|» Rated: PG-13 for sexual content, dangerous stunts, a drug-related incident and language|
|» Running time: 100 minutes|
Massive hair and spray tan aside, Carell is playing a less endearing version of "The Office's" Michael Scott, at least during the first half of the film. Director Don Scardino spends so much time making the out-of-touch magician unlikable that there's little reason to care for him once he hits rock bottom. You'll eventually laugh at our protagonist, including an inspired finale. But it's a bit like masking an overcooked main course with a sweet dessert.
Whatever magic translates to the screen is courtesy of an impressive cast, particularly the supporting roles. Though one note, Carrey once again proves to be one of the few people capable of turning body humor into an art form. The spurned best friend, Buscemi employs just the right amount of cornball charm. And when Alan Arkin emerges as an over-the-hill magician, it gives the film a desperately needed emotional arc. Still, Carell and Olivia Wilde, playing the magician's assistant and an aspiring illusionist, deliver one of the more pointless and unfathomable romances in recent memory.
The film also has a serious case of what I'd call Will Ferrell Syndrome: the belief that dropping an oblivious character into a ridiculous setting is enough to make a movie. For a film built on the premise of wonderment, it devotes little time to the foundation needed for any impressive trick.
Grading on the early-year curve, "Wonderstone" is far from a disaster. It just never strives for anything beyond temporary diversion.