Mr. Popper’s Penguins

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.