GREG'S GRADE: B-
In "The Incredible Burt Wonderstone," Steve Carell fully inhabits the title character, a famed Vegas magician who falls on hard times, in the same way Will Ferrell was Ron Burgundy or Ricky Bobby, making him a caricature more than someone you might meet on the street while earning enough laughs that you don't mind too much. But Jim Carrey, who hasn't been consistently funny in a decade, saunters in and, just as his character, street magician Steve Gray, steals the spotlight from Burt with his outrageous stunts, pilfers the movie from its lead.
While Burt and his partner/childhood friend, Anton Marvelton (Steve Buscemi), haven't updated their act in years their entrance music, costumes and wigs are all straight out of the '80s Steve Gray takes his act to the people with his TV show, "Brain Rape," performing near-horrific acts of self-mutilation and endurance (ripping a playing card out of his cheek, holding his urine for days on end, sleeping on a bed of coals, etc.). He's not a true magician, Burt insists "He doesn't even have a costume."
With dwindling attendance at The Burt and Anton Theater, its namesakes, and their assistant, Jane (Olivia Wilde), decide it's time to try something new. When that backfires, Burt and Anton have a bitter breakup, and Burt, having lost his regular gig at a Vegas hotel, finds himself virtually homeless and performing at a retirement home. There, he stumbles across Rance Holloway (Alan Arkin), who, many years ago, inspired a young Burt to become a magician.
The movie's commitment to being a Will Ferrell-style character comedy holds it back. In the Burt/Rance relationship, screenwriters John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein stumble across a story with real meat and heart: The two magicians, both disillusioned with the true love of their lives, help each rediscover the joy and wonder magic once brought them. This, however, is only a small part of the movie, which also must deal with Burt and Anton, and Burt and Jane, and all three of them, once their conflicts are sorted, versus Steve Gray in a competition to earn a job at a glitzy new hotel.
That's a lot of story to squeeze into 100 minutes (the movie begins with the childhood meeting of Burt and Anton). A tighter script focusing on Burt, Rance and Steve Gray would have yielded a better film. Carell has cultivated such a likable screen persona over the years that it's a little hard to watch him as an insufferable jerk. He's much more effective in his scenes with Arkin (who's always wonderful), when Burt starts to behave more like a real human being.
But it's Carrey who dominates the screen whenever he appears. Coming off as the mutant offspring of David Blaine and Criss Angel, he preens about, reveling in his own hype, living his act and giving Carrey ample opportunity for physical comedy. Only his raging egomania allows Burt to become a rooting interest. In this entertaining yet inconsistent movie, Carrey is the incredible one.
Rated PG-13 for sexual content, dangerous stunts, a drug-related incident and language. 100 minutes.