‘Wonderstone’ like a drumroll without an ‘Abracadabra!’

March 24, 2013

In the finale of “The Incredible Burt Wonderstone,” magicians Burt Wonderstone (played by Steve Carell) and Anton Marvelton (played by Steve Buscemi) set out to make their audience magically 'disappear.'

It's a feat at which they should excel after word gets out about just how incredibly bad their film is.

Here we are, merely weeks into the new year, and already we have perhaps the film to beat for the race to the bottom. Scene after agonizing scene is filled with quizzically dull, laughless, squandered opportunities, culminating in a conclusion that is almost baffling in its haphazard execution.

We meet young Burt as a sweet little bully magnet who escapes into a world of magic, thanks to the gift of the Rance Holloway Magic Kit.

He bonds with the equally outcast young Anton over a number of tricks the two prepare to dazzle one another.

But when the film flashes forward 30 years, the sweet, wide-eyed Burt has vanished before our eyes without a trace, replaced by a dandy, egomaniacal ass who offends everyone in his sequined path in Vegas. Even his faithful companion Anton is subjected to his venomous treatment. And quicker than a tiger turning on Siegfried and/or Roy, the duo’s show begins to tank, as audiences turn to the masochistic magic of Steve Gray (played by Jim Carrey), a David Blaine/Criss Angel hybrid whose only use of smoke and mirrors is to burn and slice his own flesh.

All of this sounds as though it should elicit a series of comedic setups, and it may on paper, but there are so many times when “Burt Wonderstone” just feels like a big drum roll without an “Abracadabra!” There are so many opportunities that either stall or merely evaporate into the next scene. And let’s not even get started on that finale, which feels like a knife just slipped on the footage and lopped it off mid-scene.

As the competing conjurers, Carrey fares best, appearing more manically invigorated than he has in years (and looking as though he’s been keeping up with stomach crunches), but he’s given so little that he never rises to the role of actual threat to anyone but himself. But Carrell is DOA, mostly due to a screenplay by Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley that feels like it was written in the dark while catching a David Copperfield show at the MGM Grand.

Not only does his character change temperament scene to scene, so does his accent, which at times sounds almost British.

And there are aspects that are just plain sloppy. Scenes in which hairstyles change within the course of a day, scars appear and disappear on characters, and supporting roles for many who are perhaps infinitely more interesting (and funny) than the leads just drop out, as if through some trap door.

With this cast, setting and subject matter, we should expect more than the cinematic equivalent of finding coins behind our ears (which is used here as well, by the way). But despite the combined wattage of these two comedic talents tackling prestidigitation in Sin City, this is exactly what we get.

What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas. So should this film.

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