It wouldn’t be fair to call The Incredible Burt Wonderstone a disastrous movie. It would be fair, however, to call it three or four disastrous movies crammed into one: It’s abysmally awful as a buddy flick, as a broad satire of Las Vegas, as a romance, and as a soulful character-based comedy. In a moviegoing year that is already piled deep with the remnants of terrible movies, this one skitters atop the garbage heap like a roach.
Steve Carell plays the title character, who in the opening scenes is a kid in the 1980s who turns to magic because he’s lonely. He’s the kind of boy bullies chase around the block, and after a rough day of being forced to eat tree bark, when he arrives home at an empty house we find out that it’s his birthday. But all he has to show for it is a note from his mom, a single present and instructions to enjoy making his birthday cake (if he wants to bake it himself). The present, though, is a box of magic tricks, together with a video by legendary magician Rance Holloway (Alan Arkin) that give him an opportunity to master something and a lifelong friendship with a classmate, the equally dorky Anton.
Cut to the present day, when Burt and Anton, under their goofy stage names, play packed houses every night in a Vegas hotel-casino despite putting on a groaner of an act complete with red velvet tuxedos, corny patter, and the theme song “Abracadabra.” The act seems to be a spoof of David Copperfield, Barry Manilow and Siegfried and Roy, staged with the maximum cheesiness of Gob’s magic act on Arrested Development. Carell and Steve Buscemi (as Anton) sport silly wigs and prance around being bitchy with stereotypically gay mannerisms. (Yet minutes later, Burt is revealed to be a ladykiller, the homoerotic scene between the two men forgotten.)
The arrival of an amazingly annoying Jim Carrey on the scene as Steve Gray, an underground hipster street musician modeled after Criss Angel and David Blaine, sets the woefully tame plot in motion: Will Burt and Anton adapt to contemporary tastes or will they fade into irrelevance?