The Underrated Burt Wonderstone


So the other day I was up late channel surfing, and I stumbled on the The Incredible Burt Wonderstone, which I'd never seen. You remember this film: Steves Carell and Buscemi as two high school friends who become an old fashioned Siegfried and Roy-style team of Vegas magicians. They run into trouble when radical street magician Jim Carrey starts to steal their thunder. Olivia Wilde is the beautiful assistant who humanizes the arrogant Carell.

The film got mixed to harsh reviews and underperformed at the box office: both critics and humans rate it in the 30s on Rotten Tomatoes and it had one of the lowest openings of a film with Carell or Carrey.

And you know what? It's good! Not a great movie by any stretch. But it's charming, sweet-natured, entertaining and I laughed out loud — hard — three or four times. Which is approximately three or four times more than I laugh out loud at most film comedies. The scene with Buscemi bringing magic to the poor is wonderful.

Many of the reviews attacking the picture seemed grumpy about its mixed tone. As "The Brain Rapist," Carrey's over-the-top, self-mutilating magic is outrageous and occasionally hard to watch, whereas the story of Carell and Buscemi's friendship and Carell and Wilde's romance is more standard comedy fare. And yeah, that's true, but the mix works really well. In fact, it actually has something to say about the difference between "radical art," and actual entertainment...  which is, I suspect, what got the highbrow critics so upset in the first place. It's really a rebuke to their slavish admiration of the off-beat.