In Time

The Incredible Burt Wonderstone

Steve Carell has been pretty consistent with his comedic performances, save for 2010’s horrid Dinner for Schmucks.  He’s shown the ability to deliver laughs as well as heartfelt, dramatic performances, as found in Crazy, Stupid, Love and Dan in Real Life.  In his latest movie he joins Jim Carrey (Mr. Popper’s Penguins) and Steve Buscemi (Boardwalk Empire) in The Incredible Burt Wonderstone, a silly flick about dueling magicians.

Carell is Burt Wonderstone, an egotistical Vegas magician who performs a running act alongside his best friend and fellow magician Anton Marvelton (Buscemi).  They resemble Siegfried and Roy, and it’s especially funny to see Buscemi out of his element in such a ridiculous part.  They are joined by their able assistant Jane (Olivia Wilde, In Time), a gifted magician in her own right.  Although he performs for hordes of adoring fans each night, Burt was not always so popular.  His childhood was miserable until he received a magic set for his birthday and found his passion through the love of magic.

Fast forward to the present day and there is a new kid on the block in Steve Gray (Carrey), a character that is best described as a cross between Chris Angeland David Blaine.  Gray is capturing the public’s attention through his magic tricks that more closely resemble publicity stunts.  Some of his “tricks” include holding his urine for over a week and not blinking for days at a time.  His antics are intentionally absurd, but it wasn’t too far removed from some of the ridiculous feats attempted by David Blaine.  Magic is an easy subject to lampoon, so the storyline was ripe for laughs.  For starters, all three magicians take their craft very seriously, approaching their performances with a laughable level of intensity.

When Anton and Burt have a falling out after a failed magic trick, Anton finally stands up for himself and quits.  Burt tries to maintain the show, but it fails miserably.  His boss at the casino (James Gandolfini, Killing Me Softly) gives him one last chance to recapture the old magic if he can best rival Gray and come up with an unbelievable magic trick to beat all others.  The remainder of the movie pits Burt and Gray against one another, with pretty funny results.  Jim Carrey’s humor isn’t for everyone, but I’ve always been a fan of his quirky brand of physical humor.  He reminded me of his old performances on In Living Color and I thought he played well off Steve Carell.  Olivia Wilde was a good sport in her role and ably complimented the more experienced funnymen.

The Incredible Burt Wonderstone was more ridiculous than funny, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  The three lead actors didn’t take themselves too seriously, and that was the only requirement here.  It was not highbrow humor, but I enjoyed myself despite the silly premise.  Jim Carrey fans won’t be disappointed, although it won’t rank highly among his funnier solo efforts.  Similarly, Steve Carrell has also had smarter, funnier material to work with.  However, I can’t judge the movie too harshly.  It’s a movie about dueling magicians for goodness’ sake, what did you expect?

Grade: B

This article first appeared at Poptimal and was reprinted with permission.

Looper

Every self-proclaimed movie buff has a favorite genre and type of movie.  My favorites are suspense thrillers or crime dramas.  I also like movies that feature intersecting storylines.  I think the best movies are “high concept,” meaning that the storyline is uniquely original and it features a refreshing central idea.  Some examples would be Inception, In Time, and Minority Report.  All three of those movies were unlike anything that preceded them.  Looper was such a movie, a high concept tale characterized by an inventive storyline.

J. Gordon Levitt (Inception) has matured into a fine young actor.  He has been impressive in everything I’ve ever seen in him, most notably 500 Days of Summer.  In Looper he stars as Joe, a young criminal in the desolate future of 2044.  30 years from that in 2074, time travel will be possible.  It is ultimately outlawed, used only by criminal organizations in secret as a way of eliminating unwanted offenders.  Joe is a looper, a person who executes people who have been sent back from the future.  Criminals in 2074 send their victim (always another criminal) back in time to 2044, where they are immediately shotgun blasted out of existence by a looper.  There is now virtually no trace of the person ever having existed.  It’s a sad and efficient way of dispensing with an enemy.  Occasionally a crime boss will want to get rid of an employee, even a looper.  When this happens, the looper will make the requisite kill, only to remove the pillowcase from his victim to discover that it’s him or herself (in the future).  This is called “closing your loop,” which means that your future self no longer exists.  The worst thing that a looper could do is fail to close his loop by letting his future self escape.  An open loop means that a future and present version of the looper co-exist in the present.  It also means that they haven’t been removed from the future yet.  It would be like 33-year-old Tanya and 63-year-old Tanya chilling right now in 2012.  Bugged out, right?  Exactly, that’s why it can’t happen.  As crazy as it must seem to put a bullet in your future self, that’s what a looper must do, if necessary.  Joe doesn’t lack the resolve to do it, but he bungles a hit on his future self (Bruce Willis, Red) when the time comes.

Of course, being a looper, Future Joe (Willis) knows exactly what is going to happen when his bosses try to send him back in time.  He prepares for it and outsmarts Present Joe easily, overpowering him and escaping.  I’m just going to refer to Future Joe as Bruce Willis, for simplicity’s sake.  Once his bosses find out that Joe didn’t close his loop, they send a bounty hunter (Jeff Daniels, The Newsroom) back in time to eliminate both Joes – the young one for botching the job and the old one because he was the target in the first place.  Joe himself is also very committed to killing himself, stopping at nothing to track Bruce Willis down.  There is a curious dynamic between Young Joe and Bruce Willis, as their agendas are wildly divergent.  Bruce Willis wants to make sure that his life plays out, as it should, the way he knows it.  He already knows what his version of the future holds, because he’s lived it.  He has a wife that he’ll never meet if Young Joe somehow alters the course of their lives.  Young Joe wants to make his own way in the world and cares nothing for a hypothetical future that he knows nothing about.

Looper was an intriguing movie.  Its high concept premise lured me in, but there were several enjoyable elements.  The casting was great.  Bruce Willis was fitting as the grisly older man who is one step ahead of his younger self.  He really looks like an older version of J. Gordon Levitt, which was especially noticeable in one scene where both actors were shown in profile.  Emily Blunt was also featured, and I think she’s very versatile.  Here she showed a vulnerability and sense of love and compassion that I liked very much.  Her performance was both emotional and convincing.  Levitt always simply does whatever is required of him, and he does it very well.   Looper was nearly flawless, and I hope that Levitt continues to challenge himself with great scripts like this one.  Grade:  A