The Incredible Burt Wonderstone is a story of friendship, magic and the power of both to astound. It could have been a really good film. However, like an illusion involving levitation where the wires can clearly be seen, it was ultimately less than satisfying.
Steve Carell is “Burt Wonderstone”, a professional magician whose future in that business springs from a birthday gift he received as a child. Steve Buscemi is “Anton Marvelton”, who was Burt’s best friend in childhood and shared a love of magic. That both were victims of bullying strengthened their bond.
But ten years into their run as headliners at a hotel owned and operated by “Doug Munny” (Gandolfini), their show has grown stale. Audience numbers are dwindling because they keep performing the same tired old show. It doesn’t help that “Steve Gray” (Carrey), a street magician whose illusions are seen on a weekly program known as the “Brain Rapist” is drawing more and more attention with his wild and dangerous stunts. In an effort to show Doug that they can do new things, Burt and Anton try a stunt of their own and things do not go well. The long-time friends split up and go their separate ways. Burt tries to do the show by himself and is soon jobless as well as evicted from his hotel suite.
He goes to crash at the home of “Jane” (Wilde), who became the ‘Nicole’ in his show as a last-minute replacement one night, but that doesn’t go well either. She has always wanted to be a magician herself and had been hoping to replace Anton since he’d left. When Burt disdains her desires, she boots him from her apartment. Eventually Burt is reduced to performing at a retirement community while Anton is trying to give away magic kits to the poor in third-world countries.
Burt encounters “Rance Holloway” (Arkin) who is living at that retirement home. Holloway was the finest magician of his time and the creator of the magic kit that Burt received as a child. Soon he has rekindled Burt’s real love of magic. Now Burt must reunite with Anton, incorporate Jane into the act and find a way to out-do Steve Gray in a showcase. The best act in the showcase will win a long-term contract at Doug’s new hotel.
There are laughs here, but not enough. There is a story here, but not enough. Jim Carrey going over the top isn’t all that unusual, but he goes further than he has gone in quite some time. Wilde is wonderful and there hasn’t been a scene written yet that Alan Arkin can’t steal. Buscemi is just fine but Carell seems to have phoned in his performance. In the end there is little that is incredible about this film.