Typically, it's not a good sign when a comedy featuring big comedic names is given little to know build-up and is dumped, quietly, in the middle of March. But comedies released in March have worked many times before; just ask Jim Carrey whose 1997 hit Liar Liar was released around the same time that year to much acclaim. This time around, Carrey takes second billing to his Bruce Almighty co-star Steve Carell in The Incredible Burt Wonderstone, a movie about rival Las Vegas magicians that carries a tone similar to the comedies of the 90s and boasts some pretty solid talent in tow.
The Incredible Burt Wonderstone finds Carell and Carrey teaming up with Olivia Wilde, Alan Arkin, James Gandolfini and Steve Buscemi (and Jay Mohr and Brad Garrett in bit parts). On paper, it sounds like you just can't go wrong, but the end result is a bit mixed. With it having less of a modern tone and featuring many actors from a bygone age, The Incredible Burt Wonderstone is immediately dropped into a niche category. The film is directed by veteran TV director Don Scardino, whose credits include shows like 30 Rock, Law & Order, 2 Broke Girls and Cosby, but no notable (if any) big screen work. His style shies away from being too cartoony or surreal, but much of the humor is based around physical comedy. And who better to achieve physical stunts and gags than Carell and Carrey.
Both Carell and Carrey also step out of their comfort zones a little for The Incredible Burt Wonderstone. Carrey is almost unrecognizable with long blonde hair and a goatee, while Carell is overly tanned and wears a flowing wig and prosthetic teeth. For most of the movie, Carell's Wonderstone is a self-centered jerk, playing a role that typically would go to Will Ferrell; there are plenty of moments where you can picture Ferrell doing the role instead (not to say Carell couldn't do it, it's just that Ferrell has become known for it). Meanwhile, Carrey is this modern, quasi-spiritual hippie who is all about shock value, representing a new brand of "magic," while Wonderstone represents the old ways. Neither character is very likeable, and when we see Anton and Burt as adults, it's sad to see that their friendship has greatly deteriorated. The movie then spends a lot of its time forcing Wonderstone to rediscover himself. It's the kind of journey that mostly works if you're a big fan of watching Carell's shtick, but those who prefer the actor's more serious roles, like in Dan In Real Life or Crazy Stupid Love, probably aren't going to enjoy most of what he offers here. If anything, fans of The Office will probably enjoy it most. Those who expect Carrey to be his usual self will be in for a bit of a surprise; Steve Gray is unlike any role Carrey has done before, and he serves as a sort of "villain" in the story, threatening everything these traditional illusionists value about their passion. The rest of the cast is pretty good in their respective roles; Alan Arkin is perfect as the inspiration for Burt's magical pursuits, Olivia Wilde is charming as their assistant Jane, and James Gandolfini removes himself further from Tony Soprano as Wonderstone's boss. Finally, Steve Buscemi is wonderful as Burt's stage show partner who has a sense of innocence to him through his naturally flaky personality. Buscemi and Carell work great together and it's their chemistry that makes a lot of their scenes work really well.
The film itself is a mixed bag. The script isn't the strongest, and Scardino seems to struggle a bit with finding the right pacing for the movie. Some of the humor just misses the mark, while most of it relies on how much you enjoy what the central cast does best. My biggest beef with the film was with its content, though. Arkin utters the movie's lone use of the "F" word completely unnecessarily, while the rest of the movie is peppered sort of infrequently with profanity and blasphemy (it didn't seem constant, but it added up to quite a bit by the time the credits rolled). There's also a shocking amount of violence in the film that centered around some extreme "tricks" that Carrey's Steve Gray performs. The worst of these (and there are some spoilers here, so be warned), involves when he puts a drill up to the side of his head and drills through to his brain. We actually see it, from a little bit of a distance, as he does this. And later we see it still sticking out of his head. It's not bloody, but it's graphic enough to churn some stomachs (I wasn't a fan, and my wife even felt queasy from the sight--and she's an operating room nurse!). The first graphic scene shows Steve cutting open his swollen cheek with a knife and digging in there to pull out an audience member's playing card, which is covered in blood. The next scene shows him sewing the wound up. Two more "tricks" that Gray does involve him burning himself; although we don't see the end result, he lays down on a bed of coals and screams (comedically) in pain. The second one has him holding his arm over burning candles on a cake in order to singe a birthday message into his skin. They're stunts no one should mimic and are ultimately played for shock comedy. I was still pretty surprised by how far they went in this PG-13 rated film, though. And when it came to sexual content, Burt Wonderstone is clearly a womanizer. He prides himself in having the largest bed in Vegas and we see him seduce a fan in one scene and ask Jane to sleep with him in another. Some of the dialog addresses his womanizing ways, and the last blatant sexual scene involves Burt and Jane making out and lying on a bed together (clothed), later in the movie. The scene is also meant to be silly, with him pulling her bra out from the top of her shirt (as a trick), and her making a condom appear using slight of hand (although, it's a bit awkwardly focused on as part of the gag). The scene ends there without us seeing anything else, but all of the sexual content was especially unnecessary and really felt excessive. I understand they wanted to make his character unlikeable in the beginning, but focusing on Jane and Burt sleeping together when he starts to become a better person felt like they were needlessly pushing that (even though it was just meant to be funny).
When all is said and done, The Incredible Burt Wonderstone is quite entertaining (especially for fans of any of the main cast or 90's-style comedies), but it isn't without some substantial flaws. The humor can be pretty adult at times, so definitely don't take the PG-13 rating lightly. On top of that, with some very violent extreme stunts (which, for the record kids, are fake in the movie!), that the more impressionable viewer will certainly not want to try at home, it's tough to give the film a recommendation. On the one hand, it's great to see comedic talent like Carell and Carrey back in the saddle, but on the other hand, the end result could have been considerably greater. So while it may not be as "incredible" as its title might suggest, it's at least entertaining.
- John DiBiase (reviewed: 3/15/13)
Blu-Ray Special Features Review
The Incredible Burt Wonderstone is available in a Blu-Ray/DVD/Ultraviolet combo pack and on just a single-disc DVD (and through the usual digital providers). It looks great in HD, although most comedies and movies without lots of scenic shots or action don't need to be seen in HD, this movie looks fantastic regardless. Seeing it again, I still enjoy the main cast's performances, the the film struggles from having main characters with little that's redeeming about them. It gets better as the movie progresses, but the fact that Burt Wonderstone is such a jerk, it makes it tough to latch on to him in the movie. Still, Carell is fun to watch and that is the movie's saving grace. Along with the feature film are the following bonus features...
Steve Gray Uncut (8:33) is a fake documentary about the character of Steve Gray and the stunts he performs during the film. Here we see new "archival" interview footage from a shorter-haired Steve Gray in 2010 (probably filmed more recently just for this release in actuality). We see longer versions of the illusions he performed and see much, much more of his pinata stunt. It's pretty funny (1 "h*ll").
Making Movie Magic with David copperfield (8:03) is dedicated to David Copperfield and his appearance in the film. It's told from Copperfield's perspective and we see many alternate takes he filmed with Steve Carell for the movie, some deleted cameos that were supposed to be scattered throughout the film, and more. It's a pretty cool extra feature.
Gag Reel (4:08) - This is one of the funnier gag reels I've seen in recent memory. With so much comedic talent in one movie, it's no surprise. However, many uses of the "F" word are bleeped out here as the cast clearly just had fun and riffed constantly. We also see some ad-libbed lines that were deleted from the movie and included here (Steve Gray in the audience after the drill stunt is some of the best).
Deleted Scenes and Alternate Takes (26:23) - There is almost half-an-hour of deleted scenes and alternate takes. It's separated into 15 "chapters" but it's all one block of footage. The first, "Rise To Fame," is an alternate montage of Burt and Anton as kids coming up with tricks, with them shown briefly as teens too. "Burt and Anton Breakfast" is a video intro for their show of them making breakfast in their hotel suites while performing tricks (like pouring coffee out of a cracked egg). "Alternate Intro" is an alternate take of their first show ten years earlier. "Future of Their Act" shows the two sitting in a restaurant talking about their act after seeing Steve Gray's show for the first time. "Steve Gray Holding It In" shows the duo watching the footage of Gray holding his urine in on TV in Doug's office. "Crowd Loves Burt" features Jane asking Burt to change before the Hot Box stunt, but Burt demonstrates how every time he waves to the audience, they cheer. "Burt Riffs on the Box" is a longer version of him and Anton in the Hot Box with him totally freaking out. "Burt Leaves His Suite" shows him moving out and hugging a hotel maid. "Burt Scarf Flosses" takes place at Doug's son's birthday party and it features slightly unfinished animation of Burt flossing his head with a handkerchief as a trick. "Burt Travels to Jungle" shows that Burt actually visits Anton in the jungle to ask him to do Doug's son's party. When Anton declines, Burt shows up at Rance's hospital bedside to ask him. It's all a pretty funny scene that probably could have been left in (There's one censored F word in subtitles by one of the jungle natives). "Steve Gray Drill Stunt Extended" shows him thrashing about on the floor before leaving the stage. "Burt Propositions Jane - alt takes" is just that. "Burt Doesn't Like Bed - alt" is a series of uncut takes of Carell just riffing on the phone to the motel owner about how much he doesn't like the small bed. "Nursing Home Extended" is a longer version of the scene in the movie and shows a glimpse of one of Copperfield's deleted cameos. "Alternate Ending" shows that Steve Gray is on the football field with the audience and Doug and the rest of the gang at the end. He's wheeled up in a cart and Doug offers him the gig. Steve then says he can't do the drill stunt again and Doug decides to give the job to Anton and Burt. It ends with us seeing Anton, Burt and Jane performing together 6 months later. The stuff with Steve Gray in this scene is pretty hilarious, so it's unfortunate that they cut it out (but they probably realized there was NO sense in him being there at the field at that point).
There aren't many special features on the Blu-Ray disc, but what is here is pretty solid (The downloadable digital copy is missed, though). Obviously, there could have been more about the magic tricks, Carell's training, or some more interviews from the cast and crew, but what's included is better than what most sets offer.
- John DiBiase, (reviewed: 6/20/13)
Parental Guide: Brief Summary of Content
Sex/Nudity: Burt and Anton introduce their assistant and make some suggestive movements toward her before mentioning to their audience that they're going to do tricks, not her (or something like that); When Burt's assistant quits, they recruit Jane to take over and someone rips off her shirt, revealing her bra underneath. She quickly covers herself up, but they put a small showgirls outfit on her; Burt is very open about being a womanizer. When he is locked in a box with Jane for a trick, he tells her he wants her to sleep with him that night and that he has the largest bed in Vegas. She refuses and he gives her the side of his cheek to kiss. It turns out that it's part of the trick so that he walks out with his face covered in smooch marks; Burt picks a pretty girl out of the audience as a volunteer and later that night we see her straddling him--both are clothed--and they're kissing. He then takes her around his place and into the bedroom where we hear her exclaim "Oh my G-d! It's huge!" and we then see his bed, which is gigantic. The next morning, she wakes up in bed alone and we see her in just her bra and panties (mostly from behind); When Burt and Anton are locked in the hot box, Burt complains about not being able to have sex for a full week while they're up there; When Burt performs his show by himself, he talks about being a special friend to himself (since he uses the same lines he would with Anton, but Anton isn't there) and it sounds awkward with implications (played for laughs); Burt is taking a bath while drunk when Jane walks in. She acts bashful about him being naked in the tub and he assures her it's a bubble bath, so he's covered up. When she comes closer to the tub, she acts repulsed at the fact that she can see through the water (we don't see anything though). He comments that the bubbles must have dispersed and lightly splashes the water to make some reform. After they talk, he tells her to join him but she doesn't and leaves; Burt makes a comment to Holloway that one of the best things about becoming a magician was the women and he agrees; We see Jane and Burt making out heavily and then they lie down on his bed clothed. As they're kissing, he pulls her bra out from the top of her shirt like a magic trick and then she makes a condom--still in its packaging--appear. He uses slight of hand to change it from a Trojan to an XL condom and she asks if that's true and he admits it's just for the trick. The scene ends there; And possibly some other dialog/innuendo.
Vulgarity/Language: 1 "F" word, 5 "g*dd*mn," 7 "S" words, 15 variations of "G-d," 2 "d*mn," 2 "J-sus," 6 "h*ll," 3 "*ssh*le," 3 "a" words, 3 "b*tch," 2 "s*cks"
Alcohol/Drugs: There is a drug that people in a foreign country use that knock themselves out, so Burt and Anton use it in large quantities for a trick (it looks like weed when bagged up, but it's not); Burt gets drunk and we see him in a bathtub drinking; Many of the magicians meet in a bar and we see them drinking together.
Blood/Gore: When Burt first sees Steve's act, Steve is doing a card trick with an audience member and then holds a dagger up to his own cheek. He slices his cheek, drawing blood and then proceeds to press his fingers into the wound, pulling out a folded up, bloody card which he unfolds to be the participant's card; We see an extended view of Steve sewing up his cheek in the sideview mirror of his van. He then yanks the needle and thread off of it when he's done sewing it up. For the rest of the movie, we see the wound in various stages of healing; Steve holds his arm above burning candles and then holds it up for the audience to see a burnt "Happy Birthday" wish swollen and scarred into his arm; Steve does a trick which involves drilling into his own head. We see it from a distance as he really drills into the side of his head. We even see it sink in after it breaches the bone of his skull. There's no blood, but it's shown entirely. It's liable to make some viewers queasy. We then see him being carried off, still alive, with the drill sticking out of his head. Later, we see a bandage on the side of his head with the drill bit still wedged in his skull (there's a little bit of blood on the bandage); A man in the audience has a big bruise on his face.
Violence: In a flashback to 1982, we see a young Burt being bullied and shoved up against a tree. He's about to be forced to eat bark off a tree but rips some off and eats it himself; We see a trick that looks like a person is being hung on stage, but it's an illusion. Another trick shoves swords through a box. We see two people inside, avoiding the swords as they pierce the box; Steve asks a volunteer to punch him. His cheek swells up fast and he uses a knife to cut his own cheek and pull a folded up card from the wound. We see him sewing it later; Steve goes to visit a casino called Lady Luck to inquire about a job but we see it being leveled after he pulls up; Steve does a "trick" where he holds his urine for days and we see him shaking fences and being a little violent while struggling with the need to pee; Anton and Burt are hoisted into the air inside a glass box. Burt freaks out and starts banging on the sides of the box. It breaks open and the two fall out. We hear that Anton broke his ankles and some ribs; We see a poor child on a news report taking a magician's rabbit and pulling out a knife (intending to kill and eat it); Steve lays down bare-chested on a bed of hot coals and screams wildly. We see a crowd member puke in response to the sight; Steve burns his arm on birthday candles, singeing a happy birthday message into his skin; Steve pretends to squeeze a small puppy to an "even smaller" size. We then find that he stuffed it into Burt's pants; Steve puts a drill to the side of his head and drills into it. We then see it sticking out of his head later; We see audience members being dragged down aisles and down steps and tossed violently into the back of a truck (all played for laughs); A bird from a magic trick flies into a glass window and flops around; A man who's apparently been attacked by his own tigers has his hand wrapped up in one scene and his neck wrapped up in a later scene.
** Disclaimer: All reviews are based solely on the opinions of the reviewer. Most reviews are rated on how the reviewer enjoyed the film overall, not on content. However, if the content really affects the reviewer's opinion of the film, it will definitely affect the reviewer's rating.