Steve Carell’s got the magic in The Incredible Burt Wonderstone

by Mark Burger

The Incredible Burt Wonderstone is an unabashedly light, breezy comedy, a silly but unpretentious saga of a magician trying to work a little magic on his flagging career.

The team of Burt Wonderstone (Steve Carell) and Anton Marvelton (Steve Buscemi) has been a staple of the Las Vegas strip for years, doing their magic show for audiences of all ages. But when hotshot magician Steve Gray (a customarily manic Jim Carrey) comes on the scene and steals their thunder, Burt is hard-pressed to top him.

With his self-esteem in tatters, Burt must go back to the basics in an effort to rebuild his career and repair his relationships. To this end, he is aided by Jane (Olivia Wilde), his faithful stage assistant (whom he mistakenly calls “Nicole” throughout), and Rance Holloway (Alan Arkin), the veteran magician who was Burt’s boyhood idol. No points for guessing how it all turns out.

The film is certainly silly, but it’s never pretentious and it affords its cast of comedy experts a fun showcase in which to strut their stuff. The actors have full reign over an admittedly standard script and Don Scardino’s easy direction, and it’s their comic energy that keeps the film’s momentum from flagging. It’s also nice that the film keeps the raunch quotient at bay.

The character of Burt Wonderstone is the sort that Will Ferrell tends to play: smug and cocky while also completely and endearingly oblivious to his own foolishness.

Needless to say, the character will undergo the obligatory transformation and emerge a better person (and a better magician) for it.

Although undeniably the star — after all, his is the title character — Carell cheerfully allows his co-stars (all adept scenestealers in their own right) to strut their stuff. Although they’re offscreen more than they are on-screen, Buscemi and Carrey add their distinctive (and distinctively nervy) energy, and Arkin can simply do no wrong. He’s a master of reaction shots.

Olivia Wilde essentially plays straight man to everyone, but certainly looks good doing it and, actually, this is one of her better big-screen turns. James Gandolfini adds some laughs as a smug Las Vegas hotel mogul whose toupee appears to change from scene to scene. Actually, the characters’ funky costumes and freaky hairstyles are in themselves enough to earn The Incredible Burt Wonderstone a fair share of smiles, if not outright laughs.