Bullied as a child, Burt (Steve Carell) dove into the art of illusions to take him away from the woes of the world, using VHS guidance provided by hero and master magician, Rance Holloway (Alan Arkin). With lifelong pal Anton (Steve Buscemi in goofball mode) by his side, Burt grows into the premiere magic act of Las Vegas, pleasing hotel owner Doug (the late James Gandolfini) and wowing makeshift assistant Jane (a pleasantly playful Olivia Wilde). After a decade of performing the same act, staleness has set into Burt and Anton's routine, while Steve (Jim Carrey), a rising magician who traffics in shock value, has come to the strip to dominate, hoping to secure placement at Doug's new glitzy hotel. Losing his show, his money, Anton, and his life of highly rehearsed magic, Burt is left to wallow in obscurity, forced to take a gig charming seniors at an assisted living center. Meeting Rance at his job, while taking Jane's ideas for illusions seriously, Burt is suddenly inspired to return to the top, hoping to outwit and outperform Steve for a crucial casino job.
"The Incredible Burt Wonderstone" is scripted by John Francis Daley and Jonathan M. Goldstein, the pair responsible for the 2011 hit, "Horrible Bosses." It's a relief to see the duo move beyond the pedestrian jokes that winded their previous effort, attempting to create a razzle-dazzle atmosphere for this Vegas tangle of magicians, goosing the clichés of the shows, embellishing the strength of sleight-of-hand skill, and indulging all the ridiculous costumes, wigs, and bone-white teeth the actors can handle. Studying their share of strip spectaculars, the writers unearth a juicy storyline that pits the old Siegfried and Roy guard with the new school of Criss Angel illusionists, with the casino culture losing a touch of the fantastic and the bejeweled to scare people into a sense of wonder. Especially with Carell and Carrey playing the warring twosome, the picture doesn't need much more to explore the radical change in magical tastes and the comedic possibilities when it comes to the humiliation of defeat.
While crammed with slapstick, there's also a story to tell, which often applies the brakes on the viewing experience. The script works overtime to bottom out Burt, finding ways to strip him of his dignity so the battered character can build himself back up to glory in decidedly conventional manner, like a "Rocky" picture, only without a training montage. It's a shame Daley and Goldstein lose their nerve and play so conventionally with the work, as "The Incredible Burt Wonderstone" has numerous highlights of bizarre magic tricks (Steve cuts open his own cheek to reveal a spectator's chosen card during a street performance) and arrogant behavior, watching the titular character attempt to keep his dignity while losing everything to a mysterious antagonist who takes a considerably more violent approach to his illusions. There's also a touch of romantic interplay between Burt and Jane, again reinforcing the rusty screenwriting template employed to ease the movie along.
To watch Carrey step into an impersonation of Angel is a thing of beauty, having a ball in bad hair, tacky tattoos, and an inflated sense of theatricality (Steve's show is titled "Brain Rapist"). His physical comedy provides the film's most significant bellylaughs, capturing the madness of the character with his old rubbery self -- a slyly blitzkrieg performance that Carrey tends to shy away from these days. Carell is also amusing with less intensity, nailing Burt's unappealing personality and his dead-eyed addiction to the limelight. "The Incredible Burt Wonderstone" is most secure focusing on this battle of style and ego, allowing the audience to soak up two wonderful jesters in the mood to be hammy and impetuous. Storytelling only blocks access to the movie's funny bone, making viewers wait patiently for bursts of activity that reward immensely but are few and far between.
Even though the film is not perfect, Warner Bros. continues to deliver fantastic Blu-ray releases. This combo pack includes a Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy with iTunes and UltraViolet. You get all the options available here to choose from. The 1080p transfer is clear and shines like Las Vegas' strip. The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 works with few jokes and music throughout the film. The special features are light in terms of content like the film itself. There is about 20 minutes of Deleted Scenes and Alternate Takes included as well as a Gag Reel, which is basically just improv-o-rama. There is a short featurette "Making Movie Magic with David Copperfield", with the magician talking about magic. Lastly there is "Steve Gray Uncut" with raw, never-before-seen extra footage with Jim Carrey.
"The Incredible Burt Wonderstone" works as a simple, campy, slapstick venture into the somewhat hoaky world of stage magicians. While it never truly engrosses the viewer, it does succeed in leaving you with a smile on your face and really what more can you ask from comedy?