Photo: Columbia Pictures
In a comic bromance worthy of Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly, or Paul Rudd and Jason Segel, or Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, Steve Carell and Steve Buscemi ham it up mightily in "The Incredible Burt Wonderstone." As partners Burt and Anton, they play two guys who've grown from prepubescent allies to co-working frenemies. They're Siegfried and Roy without the cats or the funny accents -- but just as trapped in the amber of a previous era. Still, the duo are strong ensemble players, and even though this is largely Carell's movie (Burt repeatedly reminds Anton that the "Incredible" moniker is his alone), Buscemi often gives their moments together real emotional sweetness, or sting, with a shrug or a glance.
Lonely schoolboy Burt confronts bullies and escapes into magic, bringing along his even lonelier pal, Anton. Decades later, long after the bullies are pulling checks at "Home Depot," the arrogant, abusive Vegas showman the Incredible Burt Wonderstone (Steve Carell) faces declining ticket sales and the rise of his nemesis, the defiantly masochistic metamagician Steve Gray, Brain Rapist (Jim Carrey). Reluctant to keep up with the times, Burt kicks his long-suffering partner (Steve Buscemi) to the curb, then hits rock bottom. This comeuppance gives Burt the opportunity to rekindle the magic in his life, love a woman (Olivia Wilde -- not hard to love!), reunite with Anton, and best the competition in a final Vegas showdown. As in many comedies, the plot is just an excuse for a situation -- Burt and Anton, the illusionist alternative to Muppets Bert and Ernie, versus Gray -- that generates comic discord and delights.
Jim Carrey: Citizen of Crazytown
A little bit of Carrey goes a very long way. He vibrates so hard in every scene he's in that he can escalate to overkill; it's like watching a toddler on crack. Exhausting! And as for that serious thespian Carrey aspires to, why bother? Who wants to see serious Carrey anymore (think the broody hunk of "The Number 23")?
And yet, in this comedy, playing a cross between hipster huckster Criss Angel and stunt-meister David Blaine, Carrey is deliriously obnoxious and off-putting -- precisely what the character demands. Carrey creates the perfect comic foil, as he harasses a fan into punching him, naps on hot coals, and hammers a nail with his forehead. Ooh. Ick. Can't look away. Still, without the written backstory, the comedian conveys the sense that somewhere, deep inside, beneath those tattooed chains ringing his muscled bod there exists an inner child desperate for attention (a boy that may also have tortured small animals).
Toss in an Oscar-winner
Alan Arkin may have as much screen time in "Wonderstone" as he did in "Argo," but don't expect that Oscar nomination. Still, as rusty Rance Holloway, the retired TV magician who years before inspired young Burt to pull rodents out of hats, Arkin, with his deadpan delivery and determined underplaying, the antithesis of Carrey's comic style, is every bit as good.
The TV connection: "The Office" meets "Boardwalk Empire" meets "30 Rock"
Directed by Emmy-winning "30 Rock" veteran Don Scardino, the movie connects a lot of TV dots. Carell has "The Office." Buscemi has "Boardwalk Empire." Wilde has become the breakout movie star of "House," no disrespect to Hugh Laurie. Also on hand in small and smaller roles are James Gandolfini ("The Sopranos"), Jay Mohr ("Suburgatory"), Brad Garrett ("Everybody Loves Raymond"), and even the shrink from "Bones" -- John Francis Daley briefly appears as a paramedic.
Credible enough -- and funny too
Nothing makes it harder for a professional critic to laugh along with an audience than taking notes in the dark or trying to slot a movie into some kind of historical box (not as funny as "Zoolander," funnier than "Dinner for Schmucks"?). It's unnatural. What makes me laugh, on a night when I really need a laugh, and what tickles you may not be the same. For example, for me, "The Hangover" was brilliant, and I could easily watch it multiple times; its sequel was just the original remixed and a disappointment. For a Friday or Saturday night out, "The Incredible Burt Wonderstone" delivers more than enough laughs for the cost of admission -- and there's something priceless about seeing Carell and Buscemi in maroon velvet Liberace-ware swaying to the intentionally dated 1982 Steve Miller Band single "Abracadabra."
See the trailer for 'The Incredible Burt Wonderstone' theatrical trailer: