It’s not fair—and possibly not even professional—for me to judge a film by its trailer, but that’s exactly what I did for The Incredible Burt Wonderstone.
I gazed upon Steve Carell and Steve Buscemi, as a Vegas magic act, with their bad fake tans, and skin-tight Lycra get-ups and horrible flowing wigs and I made the following mental equation: The producers of this film think that these things are funny, therefore my sense of humor does not align with the producers of this film.
And, well, damned if I wasn’t right.
Here’s the thing: Siegfried and Roy style Vegas acts, if they still even exist, stopped being ripe for satire 30 years ago. There was a brief period where America genuinely luxuriated in this kind of cheesiness and then, well, the 80s happened, and we all became conversant in irony. But The Incredible Burt Wonderstone acts as if the mere spectacle of a shirt unbuttoned down to the naval (and chains around the neck! hi-larious!) is still something worth mocking.
The plot, in brief: Longtime friends Burt Wonderstone (Carell) and Anton Marvelton (Buscemi) have being performing as a duo in Vegas for years. But audiences are dwindling, turning to Steve Gray (Jim Carrey) and his edgy “Brain Rape” magic instead (sample trick: He slices his cheek with a knife and pulls a card out of his suppurating wound). This causes a rift between the two friends. (Also on hand is Olivia Wilde as a plucky magician’s assistant who has a secret desire to be a headliner herself. Because, yeah, all the pretty girls dabbled in magic back in high school.)
Of course, there has been a shift in the landscape of magic and that, ostensibly, is what The Incredible Burt Wonderstone wants to be about—the tension between classic magicians and these new stunt-oriented upstarts like Criss Angel and David Blaine.
But even that feels weirdly dated (it might have had a shot at being funny 10 years ago) and Carrey is strangely cast as Steve Gray, considering that he’s 51 years old. What’s more, Wonderstone and Marvelton’s act is so horrible, it wouldn’t last a second in a Holiday Inn in Dayton, let alone on the Vegas strip. The film can't be bothered to make their act even remotely credible.
It’s sad, because there is a genuine subculture of magicians and fading magic acts—The Magic Castle in Los Angeles really is a hangout for aging magicians—and that’s a subject that, if treated lovingly, could’ve been the source a real movie: The Wrestler with top hats and wands.
But the filmmakers are too lazy to even try. They think that the mere spectacle of seeing these well-known actors peacocking around in ridiculous outfits is enough to entertain us. They’re wrong.