The 90's had been rife with goofy comedies, exploiting the talent of adults who had a knack for delivering over-the-top hijinks. In this respect, Jim Carrey was the undisputed king. Sure, there were other actors who helped to define the decade with outrageous physicality, but Carrey was truly one of a kind. Of course, his silliness had practically typecast him as the village idiot, so he's spent the latter half of his career laying low and taking roles that showcase a broader range of emotions. In parallel, funnyman Steve Carell has also made attempts to diversify his filmography, although he's continued to embrace the shtick that jumpstarted his career. In the end, I respect them both for attempting to shed the skins of expectation and routine, but it's their contributions to comedy that's always won me over. It's for this very reason my ears perked up when I heard about The Incredible Burt Wonderstone - How could the combined efforts of Carrey and Carell as competing magicians not be a gut-busting good time? I was even more excited when I heard that Steve Buscemi would have a starring role, and why? Because Steve Buscemi, that's why. This premise with comedy's leading men was a magical combination unlike any otherâ€¦ yet, POOF! With the wave of a hand and the tap of a magic wand, this turns into one of the genre's most transparent tricks in some time. Ranking up (down?) there with the likes of You Don't Mess with the Zohan and The Love Guru, Burt Wonderstone proves to be anything but Incredible. Ta-daaa!
Neglected and tormented as a child, the only outlet for joy in his life was magic. Not only did it help to keep his frustrations at bay, but it also served to introduce him to Anton Marvelton. They shared similar interests and began developing their own tricks at a very young age, and their determination eventually paid off, landing them top billing at the Bally's Casino in Las Vegas. However - glitz and glamour aside - we're introduced to the famous duo during a time of crisis. Fame has perhaps treated Burt too well, because he's embraced his inner divo and essentially becomes what he's hated all his life... a bully. Stage assistants have been quitting left and right, while Anton has even considered flying solo. The last thing this shaky dynamic needed was salt in the wound, yet that's exactly when they get when street magician Steve Gray (Jim Carrey) bursts onto the scene. Capturing his audience with a mix of shock value and attitude (think of Criss Angel, but with more of an edge), his success convinces the owner of Bally's (James Gandolfini) to lay down an ultimatum - Burt and Anton have to modernize their act to attract a broader audience, or they just might have to call their next trick â€˜forced retirement'. Of course, with a strained relationship placing the partners at odds, they'll once again have to find some common ground by regaining their passion for the art.
The premise itself isn't horrible, but it's certainly unimaginative. Strip away the big name stars and the rivaling magicians plot device, and you're left with the same generic template you've already seen countless times over - A selfish and arrogant character is practically high off his own success and ego. This leads to a predictable downfall, and only a progression towards maturity can save him from total ruin. What this all amounts to, is a film that easily could have replaced its leads with the likes of Adam Sandler and Will Farrell, because these actors have made entire careers out of exploiting the same storyline. However, I'm not going to sit here and pretend that the story itself really matters. When it comes to this particular genre, it isn't the loose framework that sells tickets, it's the laughs. Don't get me wrong, story is important and a dash of originality can elevate a decent comedy into a great one, but all people ultimately want is a good laughâ€¦ and therein lies the incredible problem with The Incredible Burt Wonderstone - It just isn't funny. That's sort of a magic trick in and of itself, isn't it? For a film with some of the genre's most memorable stars from the last few decades, how could it have been such a huge flop? I'd even go as far to say that this is the worst film all three of the film's major stars have led their talents to in quite some time, or perhaps ever. It's a good thing they're already household names, because this is exactly the sort of clinker that has the ability to destroy careers.
I place no fault on the players, though. As a matter of fact, the best scenes in the film come from Jim Carrey. It's the first time he's taken such a role in years, yet there was not a single moment in the film where it felt as if he was trying to get back into the groove. If anything, he's only gotten better, and with such films as Kick-Ass 2 and Dumb and Dumber To on his upcoming filmography, I'm more excited than ever to see what he has to offer. What probably helped was that the film only utilized his character in small doses, but I easily could have watched more because his act clearly wouldn't have gone stale. Unfortunately, thanks to weak scripting and ho-hum direction, the two Steve's weren't utilized nearly as well. For the story being told, Carell's character required some heart with his zany personality, but it's obvious the filmmakers were pushing for â€˜all Carell, all the time', which is a shame because he's an actor who can masterfully execute restraint. Because the script and director pushed for this portrayal, Burt Wonderstone becomes an unlikeable mess. Buscemi, although vital to Wonderstone's metamorphosis, comes off as something of an afterthought. Frankly, his brief cameos in Billy Maddison and The Wedding Singer were more memorable than this.
How could a project with such talent and potential just fall apart? Things begin to make sense once we understand that Director Don Scardino's background primarily involves sitcom television. He's used to a format where the cast is forced to ride a one trick pony, and doses of humanity and lessons of morality are presented as mere afterthoughts. This is why there's virtually no attempt to get a restrained performance from Carell, and why most of the side plots involving love and friendship feel completely meaningless. Scardino simply hasn't had a lot of experience tackling a project of this magnitude, or handling stars of this caliber. So, while he forced the cast to be â€˜too much', the script suffered from never offering enough. The jokes were uninspired and forced, and the physical gags could always be seen coming from a mile away. It's a real shame, too, because The Incredible Burt Wonderstone actually could have lived up to its name in the right hands. Hollywood often gambles big projects on directors who are looking to prove themselves, but the risk they took placing Scardino at the helm simply didn't pay off. Make no mistake about it - The Incredible Burt Wonderstone didn't bomb at the box office due to poor marketing, it bombed because it's one of the most unforgettable films to come our way in some time.
Well, the film may be a clinker, but this 1080p AVC encoded transfer (2.40:1) is above average, even if it isn't as pleasing as most other modern films. The Incredible Burt Wonderstone was shot on film as opposed to digital, so there's a very fine layer of film grain that's faithful to the look of the source. The color palette is a bit more inconsistent than I'm used to, however - Colors are vibrant and pop often enough, but lighting can often make them appear somewhat lifeless, or make skin tones move from one extreme to the other. Contrast and black levels also fluctuate a bit, with a little black crush even entering the mix. Certain shots even look a little softer than they should. For such a recent film, the culprit likely isn't the transfer, but the source itself. At least there's no edge enhancement or DNR to speak of, while digital blocking and banding are virtually nonexistent. It's a faithful presentation of the source, yes, but some strange artistic choices keep this from being a winner.
Again, I expected a little more out of a modern film's 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track. Much like the video, the best word to use is probably â€˜average', because everything is adequate but not quite impressive. The sound design is front heavy, and the rears really don't do much for environmental ambience. Sound effects are given priority in this regard, and they do manage to get the job done. The LFE doesn't really do anything to add any punch, either. Dialogue is crisp and clean without any issues, and it's sadly the most impressive thing about this release. Again, this seems to be a result of the source and not the transfer itselfâ€¦ and I can't really figure why the sound decision wasn't given much more attention.
-Deleted Scenes and Alternate Takes - Even at 100 minutes, this film feels pretty long. Still, there's 26 minutes of material here that was left on the cutting room floor, and it was certainly all for the better.
-Making Movie Magic with David Copperfield - David Copperfield, one of the most famed magicians of all time, discusses the difference of stage magic and the magic of Hollywood. He also gives us some details on the time he had filming his cameo.
-Steve Gray Uncut - Jim Carrey continues his performance of the cutting edge straight magician, in a faux-featurette titled â€˜The Best of The Brain Rapist'.
-Gag Reel - Actually funnier than the movie itself, surprise surprise.
Also included are DVD and Ultraviolet copies of the film.
Ladies and gentlemen, prepare to have your mind blown as you witness the impossible - Steve Carell, Steve Buscemi and Jim Carrey star in a goofy comedy that's a flop. The stars do their jobs and they do them well, but a terrible script and horrible direction rank The Incredible Burt Wonderstone as one of the worst comedies since Zohan and The Love Guru. This tale about a jaded magician looking to reclaim the magic that drove him to fame should have been an experience with both heart and laughs, but there's absolutely none to be found here. The A/V presentation on this release is faithful to the source, though not exactly impressive, and someone must have known that the time and effort on supplements would have been wasted, because the extras here are minimal at best. Skip it.