From David Copperfield to Siegfried and Roy to dozens of lesser-known names in between, the lavish world of Las Vegas illusionists certainly provides a broad target for parody or farce.
So it’s even more disappointing that despite a top-notch cast, The Incredible Burt Wonderstone misses the mark, feeling more like a trick that didn’t go as planned.
Steve Carell plays the arrogant title character, whose venerable Vegas show pairs him with childhood friend and longtime partner Anton (Steve Buscemi). Their on-stage act is starting to wear thin with audiences, and the backstage situation is even worse, where the co-stars loathe one another.
Enter Steve (Jim Carrey), a street magician whose stunts gain popularity, and threaten Wonderstone’s act at its most vulnerable. His inability to compete with Steve makes his ego-driven downfall inevitable.
You can match up the respective magicians in the film to their true-life inspirations (one of which plays along with a cameo), and it’s true that perhaps the more familiar you are with these acts, the more the humor might resonate.
The film was directed by television veteran Don Scardino (“30 Rock”) from a script by the team of Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley (Horrible Bosses), who provide some decent laughs yet can’t seem to find a consistent tone for the material.
The screenplay offers its share of amusing one-liners and sight gags, especially in the first half, before it takes on a more dramatic tone, asking the audience to sympathize with Wonderstone’s quest for redemption. There’s also a romantic subplot that feels more tacked-on than genuine involving Anton’s assistant (Olivia Wilde). Perhaps an edgier approach would have been better.
The cast members can’t elevate this subpar material, although they do showcase an impressive array of sequined costumes and crazy wigs. Carell usually is reliable in versatile comic roles, but here the material doesn’t give him the necessary tools. Carrey’s mugging isn’t overbearing with his limited screen time, and James Gandolfini and Alan Arkin add credibility in goofy supporting roles.
Still, if the secret to a successful illusion is making the audience believe it’s true, then The Incredible Burt Wonderstone is a cinematic charlatan.
Rated PG-13, 96 minutes.