FILM REVIEW: The Incredible Burt Wonderstone (15)

Any film which tantalises audiences with a superlative in the title needs to deliver on the promise.

It’s A Wonderful Life was sublime and Pixar met expectations with the computer-animated antics of The Incredibles.

However, Ang Lee truncated the title of his 2003 comic book adaptation, Hulk, for good reason and the half-baked Miss Congeniality sequel flouted trading laws with its subtitle, Armed And Fabulous.

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Now, director Don Scardino promises to astound us with his comedy of feuding magicians.

The only thing that is truly incredible here is that his film dodged the straight-to-DVD bullet.

Screenwriters John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein fail to conjure any abracatastic one-liners for the furious war of words between their lusciously lacquered Las Vegas showmen.

Scardino shuffles his deck of A-list cards including Steve Carell, Jim Carrey and Alan Arkin but repeatedly deals us a bum hand.

The film opens with a 1982 prologue, which introduces the young Burt Wonderstone (Mason Cook) as a loner, who suffers at the hands of bullying classmates.

“Nobody likes you. Nobody will ever like you,” sneers one teenage thug.

For a birthday present, Burt receives a magic set and he sits in awe at the accompanying video hosted by old-school illusionist Rance Holloway (Arkin).

“Everyone loves a magician!” promises Rance.

So Burt resolves to gain popularity through mastering sleights of hand, and he joins forces with fellow misfit Anton Marvelton (Luke Vanek) to defy the bullies with magic.

Thirty years later, Burt (Carell) and Anton (Steve Buscemi) are the velvet-suited kings of Las Vegas, playing to packed crowds at the Bally hotel and casino run by Doug Munny (James Gandolfini).

On stage, Burt and Anton are the best of friends but behind the scenes, they bitch and bicker, and the duo eventually falls out when a high-profile media stunt goes wrong.

Anton abandons showbusiness for charity work while Burt falls on hard times, his overinflated ego bruised by the rise of cocksure street magician, Steve Gray (Carrey).

When Munny announces a talent search to find a world-class act to headline his new hotel, Burt woos back Anton and prepares an ambitious new trick aided by glamorous assistant Jane (Olivia Wilde).

With cheeky nods to Siegfried & Roy and David Blaine, plus a cameo from David Copperfield, The Incredible Burt Wonderstone waves its wand in the right direction.

Unfortunately, the writing is poor and there is only so much polish that Carell and Carrey can apply to mediocre material.

Wilde, Arkin and Buscemi gamely swish their hair and capes in thankless supporting roles.

The script spends far too long painting Burt as a selfish, arrogant oaf and leaves scant time to redeem him and earn back our affections.

The Interminable Burt Wonderstone would be more fitting.


Released: March 15 (UK & Ireland) , 100 mins)