Starring: Steve Carell, Steve Buscemi, Olivia Wilde with Jim Carrey and Alan Arkin
Director: Don Scardino
Screenplay: Jonathan M. Goldstein, John Francis Daley
Comedy, Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 100 minutes
(Dr. Scott Allison, Professor of Psychology, University of Richmond)
It was a delightful surprise. Fashioned after Will Ferrel movies like Blades of Glory and Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, Carell and friends take on the wonderful world of magic!
The real magic trick was that a movie like this seemed destined to be a dud, yet somehow provided solid entertainment.
Let’s recap: Burt Wonderstone (Steve Carell) and and Anton Marvelton (Steve Buscemi) play two magicians whose long-running Las Vegas act slowly becomes stale and unpopular. A rival magician, Steve Gray (Jim Carrey) has stolen their audience and their thunder by performing extreme tricks involving bodily mutilation. The two men are fired, have a falling out, and go their separate ways. Burt is unable to find work and has clearly lost his passion for magic.
This is such a fun, funny, and wonderful story of falling from grace and redemption. Burt Wonderstone had lost the wonder of magic until he meets his (now aged) childhood idol, Rance Halloway (Arkin). Rance chides Burt for having no joy for the art of magic and helps him to reclaim it. This is a classic hero’s redemption story.
Yes it is, Greg. As much as this movie is over-the-top goofy, and as much as Steve Carell plays farce to the hilt, we still are witness to a traditional hero’s journey. Burt’s fall into the unfamiliar world of failure leads him to a love interest, Jane (Olivia Wilde); a mentor character Rance which you mention; and an opportunity for transformation.
Greg, what did you think of Anton’s role in this movie? Was this a buddy hero story or did Anton play more of a sidekick role?
Anton is Burt’s best friend from grade school. He was always the idea man and Burt was the front man. Anton was willing to take a back seat to Burt. While they were clearly buddies, I don’t think this was a buddy film. It was all about Burt’s realization that he had gotten too big for his own britches and had to change his ways. So, Anton is clearly a sidekick in a movie about Burt Wonderstone. What did you think of Olivia Wilde’s role in this movie? She’s a long-time favorite of mine from the TV show House and her appearance in other movies including the underrated In Time.
Olivia’s character of Jane served a purpose that is common in both the movies and in real life. What is that purpose? Women make men better. There I said it. You see it in the movies all the time, from Groundhog Day to nearly every romantic comedy where the male hero is a dufus and the woman sets him straight.
Jim Carrey as Steve Gray looks a lot like David Blaine or Chris Angel (and the stunts they perform in such cable shows as Mind Freak). Carrey is a master of physical comedy and he uses all of his talent here. I was happy that he didn’t go over the top. He seems to have tamed his mania and focused his gifts into a villain character that was a sharp contrast to Carell’s Wonderstone. Gray was sort of the grown-up bully that Wonderstone had to face as a child.
I was thinking the exact same thing about Carrey’s more subdued performance. We’ve seen physical comedians on the big screen tone down their act with great commercial success before. Steve Martin comes to mind.
I also appreciated how Anton’s hero story obeyed an important law of the hero journey: Heroes must use some aspect of their trials to redeem themselves. Anton travels overseas to a developing nation to perform magic to the starving masses — a silly gag that falls flat. But while there, Anton discovers a plant that acts as a sedative. Burt and Anton later use that plant to help transform their magic act.
That’s a great plot device. The writers were pretty economical in their writing – they really didn’t waste anything. I enjoyed this movie a lot more than I expected. And there was a lot more of the Hero’s Journey in it than I expected. I give The Incredible Burt Wonderstone 3 out of 5 Reels for an entertaining comedy experience and 3 out of 5 Heroes for a reasonably well-crafted hero.
Ditto, Greg. The movie was a fun romp, producing many chuckles and solid entertainment. It’s no academy award-winner, but it did the job. I also give it 3 Reels out of 5. The Hero journey was certainly present from start to finish. It was a bit hard to root for an arrogant bastard like Burt, but Jane and Rance did eventually tame the beast. Like you, I give the hero Burt 3 out of 5 Heroes.