The Incredible Burt Wonderstone

Director    Don Scardino
Starring    Steve Carell, Steve Buscemi, Jim Carrey, Olivia Wilde, Alan Arkin, James Gandolfini
Release    15 MAR (US) 15 MAR (UK)    Certificate 15
4 stars


12th March 2013

In order to raise this review to an intellectual level beyond all others, I learned the word 'prestidigitation', which means 'sleight of hand': the cunning technique by which magicians fool you into thinking you really do have a neverending supply of loose change behind your ears. That done, all I need to do now is slip it casually into my prose, like, oh, I don't know, a magician employing prestidigitation. That was pretty smooth, right? (*runs away in a puff of smoke*)

Seamless legerdemain aside, let's crack on with The Incredible Burt Wonderstone, in which the inedible Steve Carell plays Burt, alongside Steve Buscemi as his partner Anton Marvel. Successful Vegas magicians, their family-friendly but decreasingly popular stage show is under threat from the arrival of Steve Gray (Jim Carrey), a thinly-veiled David Blainealike who specialises in grotesque tricks which involve him abusing himself in increasingly unpleasant ways, like holding in his urine for several days or wandering around in public looking like Justin Lee Collins.

"I will now make my career... disappear!"

In a series of story beats as familiar and predictable as Jim Carrey pulling a silly face, The Incredible Burt Wonderstone's plot unfolds in the most obvious ways possible: director Don Scardino and his crack team of gagologists have got the universal buddy comedy playbook, and they're running it step by step. Substitute Carell, Buscemi and Carrey with Stiller, Wilson and Vaughn and you've got Generic Hollywood Comedy #237. And although that sounds like a cue for grumps like me to call the film outside for a rumble, The Incredible Burt Wonderstone introduces a revolutionary new twist to the formula: it's very, very funny.

While the three leads are all fine (although they're all swept aside by Alan Arkin, gut-bustingly LOLsome as the wise old mentor), it's the script that raises Burt Wonderstone above its peers. It's comedy as it should be, with perfectly-judged gags coming thick and fast where most modern comedies would pile F-bombs and accidental spunk-drinking, inadvertent drug-taking or improvised shouting in the absence of any genuine humour. I don't want to sound like your grandma, but it's just a refreshing pleasure to see a comedy that relies on well-crafted jokes to amuse for a change.

Obviously silly wigs are still OK.

A slightly weak finale and a typically underwritten part for a token woman (Olivia Wilde, making the most out of not much) leave The Incredible Burt Wonderstone outside classic status, and although it's a ROFL-riot while you're watching, its predictability consigns it to the bulging sack of watch-once-only comedies. But as an example of how to do this stuff properly, it's like perfectly-cooked chicken and chips: there's nothing original here whatsoever, but it's done so well that it's comfort food for the soul.

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