Sunday, August 21, 2016


Welcome to another installment of the TRASH BIN, where we watch the worst movies Hollywood has to offer, according to critics, and give you our thoughts, good or bad. This week's pick is the magical 2013 comedy THE INCREDIBLE BURT WONDERSTONE.

Howdy fellow film freaks, Robert here, and I suppose it's probably to be expected of me at this point, shameless movie lover that I am, but I have found another movie that I think is better than the critics and the Internet give it credit for. The Incredible Burt Wonderstone, a comedy about magicians, old friends, and finding your passion in life, has a 36% Rotten rating on Rotten Tomatoes and an only slightly better metascore of 44 on Metacritic. And once again, I'm mystified as to why.

The Incredible Burt Wonderstone is a relatable story about finding what you love to do, then doing that thing for all the wrong reasons. Burt Wonderstone (Steve Carell) became a magician after getting a Rance Halloway Magic Kit for his birthday as a boy and learning that 1) magic is awesome, and 2), as the kit's instructional video puts it, "everyone loves a magician." What starts out as a fun and exciting hobby for Burt turns into a successful career, culminating in a standing gig headlining at Bally's resort in Las Vegas with his longtime friend and partner, Anthony, aka "Anton Marvelton" (Steve Buscemi). By this point Burt has forgotten the joy of performing magic and is just in it for the adulation; he's become spoiled by his lavish lifestyle, and hates being a magician. The actual plot of the film, then, is a redemption tale of the kind typically reserved for sports movies: Burt's pompousness will cost him everything he's gained, he'll hit rock bottom, and eventually find his way back to the career he once had, and a new understanding of why he got into magic in the first place.

While the main story itself is pretty bare-bones, the joy, as always, is in the journey. Wonderstone features some memorable performances. First, Steve Carell, who I don't normally like but very much enjoy here, plays Burt Wonderstone in a way that I can only describe oxymoronically as "manic-straight." The character can be screaming at someone one moment, then displaying perfect self-control the next. That shouldn't work, but Carell pulls it off. The film also features the late James Gandolfini, best known as Tony Soprano, as the soft-spoken and sleazy resort owner Doug Munny, a man so career focused he doesn't know the age of his own son.

But my favorite character in this movie is Steve Gray, a street magician and the story's nemesis, played brilliantly by Jim Carrey, another comedian I can leave as often as take. In fact, other than Wonderstone, the only other performances of Carrey's that I enjoyed were dramas: 1998's The Truman Show and 2004's Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Gray represents the "new school" of magic, the kind that's about mind-over-matter and extreme feats of self-control more than sleight-of-hand. The 21st Century being what it is, Gray's performances are meant to shock and horrify, while Gray himself spouts pseudo-spiritualist and vaguely Messianic nonsense.

The contrast between Steve Gray's style of "grindhouse" magic and Burt Wonderstone's more classical style ties into Burt's story of redemption. Burt is tired of being a magician because along the way he has forgotten why he became one, and the scene where he is reminded of that reason is one of the best in the film (you get to see part of it in the trailer above). And I think it's a clue as to why the movie is the way it is, a comedy that despite being made so recently, refuses to join the race to the bottom that is modern comedy. Comedy should cheer you up, not pander to the lowest common denominator. If that is Wonderstone's biggest problem, as the Critics Consensus on the film's Rotten Tomatoes page suggests it is, then this is a comedy worth your time.

The Incredible Burt Wonderstone is rated PG-13 for sexual content, dangerous stunts, a drug-related incident and language.


Rotten Tomatoes: 36%
Metacritic: 44
IMDb: 5.9/10


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