Since writing about magician David Kwong last November, I’ve been waiting for “The Incredible Burt Wonderstone” to come out. David’s listed as one of the film’s two magic consultants at IMDB, though I saw three names in the film’s credits. I enjoyed the film on the day it was released, and now I’m watching the reviews roll in on Rotten Tomatoes.
As of this column’s deadline, its audience rating was 63 percent, with its Tomatometer rating hovering around 40 percent. The latter number is the one that “Wordplay” finished its run at 95 percent, though its final audience rating was 57 percent. Go figure!
The review I find myself most in agreement with is Tom Long’s in the Detroit News: “The Incredible Burt Wonderstone isn’t incredible, but it’s a nicely performed bit of programmed Hollywood hilarity.” Other apt phraseology from Long includes that this film “is willing to be funny if not brilliant.” And that it’s “willing to rely on its star power.”
And does it ever have star power! Steve Carell, Olivia Wilde, Steve Buscemi, James Gandolfini, Alan Arkin, and Brad Garrett were the names I recognized. Apropos of the ratio there suggested, the film could have used more strong female roles, for balance.
Carell and Buscemi play Las Vegas magicians – The Incredible Burt and Anton – who’ve been together since childhood. Wilde’s Jane (no last name) goes from stagehand to performer on a whim by Wonderstone, the egomaniacal leader of the burned-out duo, whose audiences are shrinking in size.
The road to rock-bottom turns out to be no more than an ill-conceived stunt away for the troupe, prompted in part by the wild street-magic antics of Jim Carrey’s Steve Gray, a dark comic figure from the absurdest of absurdist traditions. He’s an easy character to dislike, from the moment Burt deadpans, “He doesn’t even have a costume.”
Gandolfini is the owner-manager of the casino at which Burt and Anton were the star attraction. Arkin plays Rance Holloway, a retired master magician whose signature magic kit got Burt started as a child. Garrett plays Burt’s financial advisor, who has nothing but bad news to report when Burt finds himself out of a job.
Long writes, “Happily, the performers pull it off. Wilde’s double takes, Buscemi’s beaming cluelessness, James Gandolfini’s gruff self-centeredness, (and) Arkin’s barking derision all work as they should, with Carell as the self-improving idiot center of things.” However, in my view, it’s not that simple.
Disclaimer: I hope the movie makes a zillion dollars and furthers the career of Kwong, who is my friend. My conflict of interest being disclosed, my assessment of Wonderstone is that it could have been a drama with significant comic overtones or a comedy with insignificant dramatic overtones.
The casting sealed its fate as the latter. I think it would have been better as the former. But let’s face it: Jim Carrey and Steve Carell would not come together in the former. The magic consulting should be about the same in either, I’d think. So, whatever’s keeping the film’s positive reviews down, it’s not D.K.’s fault. His next film, Now You See Me, comes out soon – with Morgan Freeman, Woody Harrelson, and Isla Fisher.
Vic Fleming is a district court judge in Little Rock, Ark., where he also teaches at the William H. Bowen School of Law. Contact him at email@example.com.