The Incredible Burt Wonderstone

Mar 19, 2013

Not an incredible movie.

The Incredible Burt Wonderstone
Grade: C
Director: Don Scardino (me and Veronica)
Screenplay: Jonathan M. Goldstein (Horrible Bosses), et al.
Cast: Steve Carell (Hope Springs), Steve Buscemi (Trees Lounge)
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 100 min.
by John DeSando

“I’m incredible.” “I’m so hungry I almost ate my rabbit.” Burt Wonderstone (Steve Carell)

These two lines are arguably the funniest of an otherwise bland Incredible Burt Wonderstone. This supposedly humorous look at a declining, egotostical Vegas magician, Burt Wonderstone, and his partner, Anton Marvelton (Steve Buscemi), is rarely funny or magical.  The sequined jumpsuits and flowing wigs of Siegfried & Roy are there in their cheesy glory, but the camp falls flat around this film. 

Incredible tries to make weighty the passage of the old-style Las Vegas entertainer to the new, embodied by the buff Steve Gray (Jim Carrey), whose modern ethic is to lie on coals or shoot himself in the head, among other oddly sadistic stunts.  To the film’s shame, it neither exploits Carrey’s physical talents enough nor completes an in-depth exposition of the current shallow state of entertainment.  Then, Carrey is the best of the cast, wholly engaging himself in anti-social magic to the delight and disgust of both the screen audience and the one in the theater. Once again Alan Arkin plays a memorably small role, this time as the old magician who first inspired the little Burt.

This film is neither the commercial magic of David Copperfield (who does a cameo here) or the downright silliness of Johnny Carson’s Carnac the Magnificent (one of his absurdly divinations may remind you how humorously deficient Incredible is: “May a desert weirdo lower his figs into your mother’s soup”).

An inherent liability for a film about magic is the tricks could be taken as movie magic and lose their basic charm. In other words, don’t look for the grace of Hugo or the mystery of Welles’ F for Fake, or the recent Illusionist. All those have a gravitas that comes from excellent writing, not strength in screenwriter Jonathan Goldstein (Horrible Bosses) this time around.

Although The Incredible Burt Wonderstone would have liked the mix of humor and magic in the renowned Penn & Teller act, what it ended up with was very bad Judge Harry T. Stone, the Mel-Torme-loving night court judge. While movies are magic, they need much of it to survive. Incredibly, Burt is not the answer.

John DeSando co-hosts WCBE 90.5’s It’s Movie Time and Cinema Classics, which can be heard streaming and on-demand at He also appears on Fox 28’s Man Panel. Contact him at