The Incredible Burt Wonderstone Blu-ray Review
There is a fair collection of films that have used the art of illusion as the central focus for their overall story arc, with a few of them even worth a second viewing. However, with the “magic boom” that has occurred over the past decade in pop culture, bringing the show out of the Vegas casinos and into your living room via basic cable, there is just too much material from too many idiosyncratic characters for comedy scriptwriters not to notice. What’s really incredible about THE INDREDIBLE BURT WONDERSTONE is that it took Hollywood this long to release a feature film that parodies the modern era of magicians.
In the early ‘80s, a young Albert is your typical latch-key kid who gets bullied and can’t seem to find a comfortable place amongst his peers. For his birthday, his mother gets him a magic kit endorsed by then famous magician Rance Holloway (Alan Arkin, ARGO). Instantly fascinated, Albert begins to master the novice tricks in the kit, even practicing them at school. This attracts the attention of fellow social outcast and classmate Anthony. In a flash, the duo become inseparable best friends who do nothing but think up and practice new tricks of their own. As they get older, they don the stage names of Burt Wonderstone (Steve Carell, CRAZY, STUPID LOVE) and Anton Marvelton (Steve Buscemi, BOARDWALK EMPIRE), eventually landing a recurring show at the Bally’s hotel in Las Vegas. Unfortunately though for Burt, he lets success alter his boyhood fascination with magic into a pompous, irresponsible and entitled persona that leaves him penniless and causes a rift with his life-long friend and partner.
There’s no trick or fantastical illusion needed to see the glaring and obvious facets that make the industry of “magic” fodder for a great comedic script. Sadly, experienced television director Don Scardino (30 ROCK, THE MINDY PROJECT) and HORRIBLE BOSSES screenwriter Jonathan M. Goldstein, decided to take those aspects only at face value, rather than formulate a complex plot device to delve into the intricacies of the life of a professional magician. Goldstein is a very good comedy writer, and just like in HORRIBLE BOSSES, he again induces moments of audible laughter by way of shock and awe. This would have sufficed if the subject matter was as shallow as simply wanting to kill your insufferable excuse for a human being of a boss, but this film had a much deeper quality of source material to tap into, especially when having top tier comedic talent like Steve Carell, Alan Arkin and Jim Carrey at your disposal. Employing these actors as over-the-top versions of real-life illusionists at war with one another is like showing off the “guess my card” trick that every magician learns when they’re 8 years old. What this film should have been was the unforgettable prime-time David Copperfield makes the Statue of Liberty disappear type of story.
Even at the mercy of a 2-dimensional screenplay, the stars of the film were able to conjure up some great performances through raw comedic talent. Carell is quickly making a case as a first-ballot “hall of famer,” that is if there was ever such thing as the Comedy Hall of Fame, which there should be. It’s also very humbling to see a big star like Steve Buscemi not let the success of what will surely end up being the signature role of his career in BOARDWALK EMPIRE, deter him from accepting the sidekick comedy roles that his fans love. Buscemi’s SOPRANOS co-star, the late James Gandolfini also contributes to some of the funnier moments in the film as Doug Munny, a stereotypical Vegas hotel tycoon. However, what makes Gandolfini’s character somewhat original is that the stereotype he’s portraying is not that of film, but real life. Doug Munny doesn’t try to pretend that what he does is hard work or complicated in the slightest way. He just builds big shiny new things and says, “here’s a big shiny new thing, come spend your money in it.”
Though of all the performances, it’s once again Alan Arkin who has slowly made an art out of stealing away a comedy. Even in the midst of current and past kings of comedic cinema like Carell and Carrey respectively, Arkin’s portrayal of Burt’s childhood hero Rance Holloway manifests a few moments of earthquake type laughter, producing residual aftershocks that can be felt well after the closing credits. The legendary actor, who may only be known to some younger audiences as that “funny old dude” in films like LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE, GET SMART and THE CHANGE-UP, has the uncanny ability to take mundane dialogue and adhere a comedic inflection to the perfect degree, something that he seems to actually be improving at with age.
As for the return of Jim Carrey to his preposterous and outlandish character roots embodied in Steve Gray, a very conspicuous parody of Chris Angel and a mix of other “street magicians,” it seems to have drawn an ironic parallel between Carrey’s film career and Carell’s character in the film, Burt. Once heralded as the undisputed sultan of box-office comedies, Carrey’s act has become somewhat stale and predictable like an old magic show. As he now tries to remain relevant by accepting supporting roles in films starring current monarchs of laughter like Carell, Carrey seems to be trying to recapture the lighting in bottle that came so easy to him early in his career.
THE INCREDIBLE BURT WONDERSTONE isn’t going to “blow minds” as Arkin’s character states as the main purpose of magic, but what might be the greatest trick of all in this film is that an otherwise superficial and underwhelming story is perpetuated solely by a handful of very funny yet equally shallow moments, which is somehow able to create the illusion that this is actually an entertaining film.
THE INCREDIBLE BURT WONDERSTONE BLU-RAY REVIEW
Video: 2.40:1 Widescreen, 1080p/AVC MPEG-4: The picture quality is very good; in fact it’s too good for the beginning of the film which showcases Burt’s and Anton’s childhood in the ‘80s. And it’s much, much too good when trying to exemplify the picture quality of an RCA top-loading VCR. The director and editor should have thrown on some grainy filters to at least present the illusion that they cared about the fine details of the movie they were making. It’s been a while, but last time I viewed a turn-knob CRT set, it wasn’t in 1080p.
Aside from that, the film has appropriately fine detail and color saturation, with very good black levels and skin tones.
Audio: English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1: It might have been deliberate, but the sound in this film is very flat. If the point was to recreate the ambiance of an old and sad Vegas show, then the filmmakers have greatly triumphed. But there is little reason to have that kind of quality throughout all the “non-magic show” scenes as well.
Steve Gray Uncut (9 min): Not actually uncut, but it’s a compilation of Jim Carrey’s character in extended scenes made to be somewhat of a spoof of Chris Angel’s “Mindfreak” show. With the exception of the “archive interview footage” spliced in, there’s little here that enhances what you already experience in the movie.
Deleted Scenes and Alternate Takes (26 min): With Carell and Carrey, it’s always entertaining to watch them adlib, but it’s only worth the time for hard-core fans.
Making Movie Magic with David Copperfield (8 min): The consummate Vegas magician, David Copperfield talks about his performance and how he was commissioned to invent some of the illusions used in the film. If you really like magic, getting some behind the scenes comments from Copperfield is totally worth the 8 minutes of your time.
Gag Reel (4 min): As with all of Carell’s films, the gag reel is top notch. Even when the scene is dead and buried, he’s still hilarious.