The Incredible Burt Wonderstone

I should be describing “The Incredible Burt Wonderstone” to let you know the positives and negatives of the latest Steve Carell mass-market comedy. But watching it, all I could wonder was, whatever happened to Steve Buscemi and the Coen Brothers?

At one time he was arguably the foremost actor associated with the reticent Minnesota siblings, playing roles in all five of their features in the nineties. Then it suddenly stopped. Why? Obviously there wouldn’t appear to be a rift, a falling out, as he starred in their segment of “Paris, Je t’aime.” They just suddenly quit. Was it money? A desire to try new things? That question—why do some actors and filmmakers work together intensely and then never work together again? —is quite intriguing and rarely answered.

The greatest benefit of such creative breakups is keeping things from going stale (unless you’re Led Zeppelin—it didn’t work very well for any of them). “The Incredible Burt Wonderstone” runs on the fumes of collaborations that have gone stale. A childhood magic set leads two elementary school dorks to grow up to become into The Incredible Burt and Anton, a headlining Vegas magic act drowning in sequins and passive-aggressiveness. They suddenly find a rival in a tattooed, masochistic street magician with a cable show, prone to “magic” tricks like laying all night on a bed of burning coals.
Outside of Buscemi, Wonderstone stars a few performers who could use a hit. The film marks the first time in some time that a Carell mass-market comedy isn’t being released in summer.

Olivia Wilde—the eye candy playing the eye candy—hasn’t lived up to hype. And Jim Carrey, goodness gracious, goes back to his comedy roots following failures like “The Number 23” and “Mr. Popper’s Penguins.” Of those guys the best is Carrey—flat-out great as nightmare magician Steve Gray, a classic case of a performer returning to the sort of role that made him a star and relishing going home again.

The film as a whole? Well, you have to accept that this sort of thing has a mid-grade ceiling. Within that context, it’s not bad, nothing special, on the high side of the median for Carell comedies, certainly better than “Noah’s Ark.” John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein‘s script smacks of cheesy sitcomness, but at least funny (much better than their “Horrible Bosses” effort). You find yourself laughing at this thing even though, good gravy, you really don’t want to be laughing at this thing.