The Incredible Burt Wonderstone
The long-running Las Vegas magicians act of Burt Wonderstone (Steve Carell) and Anton Marvelton (Steve Buscemi) has gotten tired. The performers are sick of each other. Burt has become a sleazy womanizer who keeps hitting on whoever their new girl assistant is. Anton thinks he’d like to go someplace far away and do something useful for humanity for a change.
When the inevitable breakup finally comes, they both discover that life apart didn’t hold any great adventure. Burt spirals down into doing magic tricks for a nursing home audience. Anton tries giving away magic kits to children in some needy third-world country, but seems surprised to discover that what they really need is food and water, not card tricks. Yes, they’ve become pathetic caricatures of themselves, but now are ripe for re-invention. If they can only swallow the humble pie.
Sometimes redemption is offered in unexpected places. That nursing home gig of Burt’s winds up being the residence of his boyhood idol, Rance Holloway (Alan Arkin), who’s keeping it real as a critic of Burt’s lackadaisical performance. If he isn’t passionate about what he does, how does he expect anyone else to be? Burt also runs into his last assistant, Jane (Olivia Wilde), who still hasn’t gotten over her hero worship of him, despite his fall from fame, or maybe because of it. Burt and Anton hold their anonymous reunion in a corner booth in an obscure diner, where they reveal how much they’ve missed each other, and still really care for each other (this would never happen with estranged former partners Simon and Garfunkel).
Now we start adding a little joie de vivre to the cornball comedy, and as in the old Jerry Lewis films, we’re not really sure, sometimes, if we’re supposed to laugh or cry. But either way, we can’t stop paying attention to Steve Carell, the Jerry Lewis of this generation. Jim Carrey takes a strange turn as Steve Gray, the stunt performer who calls himself a magician, but with his over-the-top masochistic stunts seems to want the audience to say “Ewww!” instead of “Ah!”
Olivia Wilde is pleasingly understated in this well-scrubbed-girl-next-door role, and Alan Arkin is pleasantly irascible, like an avuncular curmudgeon ought to be.
So, is this a comedy, a buddy movie, a new twist on smoke and mirrors, or a coming of age movie for Baby Boomers falling from grace? Maybe all of the above.
Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, Minister, St. Stephen’s Presbyterian Church, Irving, Texas