The story centers around Carell's Burt who first learns magic tricks as a child in order to make friends. I can painfully relate to this, as I too tried to master a box full of illusions to impress my classmates. He does end up making a friend and the two grow up to create a non-gay Siegried and Roy with a permanent gig in Vegas as "The Incredible Burt Wonderstone and Anton Marvelton: A Magical Friendship " But already, the film begins to fall off the rails. When we get to the present, Burt is mean and bored. He bullies Anton (Steve Buscemi) and sexually harasses his new assistant , the aspiring female magician Jane (Olivia Wilde). The skip ahead in time goes too quickly from the lonely child to the egotistical Lothario is too much. It becomes difficult to care about Burt's problems at all.
Trouble ensues when a Chris Angel type of street magician played by Jim Carrey comes along. His gross-out, cringe-inducing stunts are set up as an affront to the traditional magical acts that Burt and Anton put on. As Carrey's character becomes more popular, Burt's act becomes less so. He struggles to remain relevant, but continually conflicts with Anton and Jane.
The movie picks up a bit with a struggling Burt meets his childhood idol, the famous magician Rance Holloway (Alan Arkin). The movie beings to pull itself together and explore the nature of performing magic and why we like it, but it never really delivers. In the end, the story moves towards a final contest between Carell and Carrey. Burt must put on a grand illusion to save the day. But almost all of the wonder is lost because they explain how they do too far in advance of the actual magic trick.
The cast does a fine job. Carell is a bit uneven, though. It feels like he is putting on the performance of a complete jerk only to switch strangely to sincerity. Buscemi is one of those rare actors that can move from comedy to drama effortlessly. Wilde brings a great deal of charisma and brains to her part. And Jim Carrey does his normal over the top Jim Carrey thing.
The most disappointing thing about The Incredible Burt Wonderstone is the fact that it can never live up to its potential. It isn't a particularly bad movie, but it isn't good either. The anti-Chris Angel motif feels stale, but would have been fresh 3 years ago. In small bits, the jokes are actually pretty funny. But they don't hang together. The jokes weren't big enough for large belly laughs and the story wasn't strong enough to sustain a lot of interest. It's a shame. With a little tweaking, this movie could have been Incredible
2 and 1/2 out of 5 stars