The world of Las Vegas magicians is a perfect place to set a comedy. From the glittery costumes, the elaborate poses and over-the-top theatrics, it practically begs to be parodied. But do the jokes magically appear, or do they do a vanishing act?
For years Burt Wonderstone (Steve Carell) and Anton Marvelton (Steve Buscemi) ruled the Las Vegas strip with a magic show that made Siegfried & Roy look understated. But their dominance of Sin City’s showrooms disappears when a David Blaine type, guerrilla street magician Steve Gray (Jim Carrey) starts a turf was in town. His daring act makes the glitter and glitz of their show look well past its sell-by date. To stay relevant Wonderstone and Marvelton stage their own daring stunt which just may be their grand finale.
I kept waiting for “The Incredible Burt Wonderstone” to pull a rabbit out of its hat and take full comedic advantage of it setting, and yet the bunny never appeared. There are gags here and there that feel completely organic to the story—the Wonderstone’s elevator is so opulent people mistake the it for his suite, for instance—but it is the main character that lets us down.
Carrell is too likable an actor to pull off Wonderstone’s egotistical, one-note womanizing act. The fake tan and mullet do some of the work, but it never feels real, and even less so when he falls into Woody Allen territory during his romantic redemption with a love interest 23 years younger. On top of that his gearshift down from narcissist to nice guy doesn’t come off as anything but generic and predictable. Nothing magical about it.
Carrey fares better. No one plays controlled chaos like Carrey and his increasingly self-aggrandizing behavior is the best thing in the movie. Of the supporting cast Buscemi and Wilde weren’t really given enough to do to make any lasting impression. They play decent, nice people and in a movie like this featuring raging egomaniacs and insane illusionists nice guys and gals do finish last.
Arkin isn’t given much to do either, although he does have a nice gag or two, but at least he remembered to pack his trademarked deadpan delivery in his bag of tricks.
“The Incredible Burt Wonderstone” has the odd laugh and a likable the cast that brings a lot of goodwill with them but the film’s worst trick is how it will make much of that goodwill disappear by the time the end credits roll.
This weekend a cast of Hollywood A-listers are going to try and do something magical. Literally.
In The Incredible Burt Wonderstone, Steve Carell and Steve Buscemi play down-and-out Las Vegas magicians, up-staged by hotshot Steve Gray (Jim Carrey). Adding more star power is Alan Arkin as a retired magician who still has a card or two up his sleeve.
With an advertising tagline like Abracatastic! you can expect lots of illusions, but Burt Wonderstone isn’t the first movie magician to pull a rabbit out of his hat on screen.
In Death Defying Acts Guy Pearce plays the best-known magician of all time — Harry Houdini. Set in 1926, 13 years after his mother’s death, the movie introduces him to a Scottish psychic and her daughter, played by Catherine Zeta-Jones and Saoirse Ronan, who try and con him into believing they can contact Mrs. Houdini from beyond the grave.
Houdini has been played by everyone from author Norman Mailer and Harvey Keitel to Tony Curtis and Emile Hirsch, but it’s also possible to catch a glimpse of the real deal. The prestidigitator began filming his magic act as early as 1906 and went on to star in a series of films with titles like The Master Mystery and Terror Island, all of which are available on the DVD set Houdini: The Movie Star.
Taking their lead from Houdini, Penn and Teller starred in Penn & Teller Get Killed, a 1989 black comedy featuring a classic sequence of Teller catching pigeons in the park with his bare hands.
Audiences could pick one of two magic movies from the deck in 2006.
First, The Prestige saw Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman abracadabra their way through this Christopher Nolan-directed film about tragic results of a rivalry between two 19th century stage magicians. Fans of the movie will notice the main characters’ initials spell ABRA — Alfred Borden Robert Angier — short for Abracadabra!
Released the same year, The Illusionist starred Edward Norton as a magician who uses his magical skills to win the love of Duchess Sophie (Jessica Biel). Norton’s character is loosely based on Erik Jan Hanussen, a magician and clairvoyant who was killed by Nazis in 1933 after a long and successful sage career.
The Mad Magician isn’t notable just because it starred Vincent Price as the murderous Gallico the Great. It’s best remembered as the first movie to be shown in 3D on television.