Combustible Celluloid
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With: Steve Carell, Steve Buscemi, Olivia Wilde, Jim Carrey, James Gandolfini, Alan Arkin, Jay Mohr, Brad Garrett, David Copperfield
Written by: Jonathan Goldstein, John Francis Daley, based on a story by Chad Kultgen, Tyler Mitchell, Jonathan Goldstein, John Francis Daley
Directed by: Don Scardino
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for sexual content, dangerous stunts, a drug-related incident and language
Running Time: 100
Date: 03/15/2013

The Incredible Burt Wonderstone (2013)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Divide and Conjure

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

The Incredible Burt Wonderstone starts with a flashback. On his birthday, the young Burt is chased and harassed by bullies and left alone by an overly busy, absent mom. He opens his birthday present, a Rance Holloway magic kit, and gapes, wide-eyed with wonder, at the illusions he will soon learn. He will grow up to be a supremely successful and supremely arrogant Las Vegas headliner, having forgotten that moment of wonder.

It's a great analogy for the movies themselves: some transcendent, transformative moment leads to a career, where all the magic is subsequently stripped away. It takes an enormous amount of courage, will, and self-knowledge to hang onto it.

There's no question that Burt (Steve Carell) will find his heart again. But in the meantime he must contend with a series of challenges. He has a falling out with his best friend and longtime partner, Anton Marvelton (Steve Buscemi). After losing his job, a lovely assistant, Jane (Olivia Wilde) tries in vain to help. And, worst of all, a vulgar new "extreme" street magician, Steve Gray (Jim Carrey), begins to steal Burt's thunder. Finally, Burt meets the actual Rance Holloway (Alan Arkin) when Rance criticizes Burt for his passionless performance in an assisted living community.

In a breathtaking moment, Rance demonstrates a trick for Burt -- conjuring a pigeon out of a salt shaker -- that effortlessly renews Burt's sense of wonder.

Sadly, director Don Scardino (a veteran of TV) and writing team Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley (Horrible Bosses) kill it with a gruesome payoff about a "partially de-boned" bird (a gag given away in the trailer).

It's an interesting, if slightly dark, idea. "Real" magic exists only when the audience believes in it, though the magician always knows it's fake. However, if the movie asks us to also believe in laughter, it succeeds. Scardino turns in a nicely paced film that never outstays its welcome and never makes any annoying missteps. The jokes are consistently funny from beginning to end. Many of them are telegraphed, but they still work given the high level of skill, and passion, on display here.

Yet Carrey is the movie's ace up its sleeve; as the heartless, audience-pandering performer, he so completely occupies his character's mystical, vicious persona that you want to applaud. He's at his frighteningly manic best here. If the Academy ever considered awards for comedies released in March, Carrey would certainly deserve one.

Warner Home Video released a Blu-ray/DVD/Ultraviolet combo pack with just a few extras. There are about 26 minutes of deleted scenes, a short featurette on David Copperfield's involvement in the film, a gag reel, and a short featurette about the Steve Gray character (most of which is already in the film). The transfer is fine, but less crisp than one might expect a new movie to be (it has a deliberate 1970s look).

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