Friday, March 15, 2013

The Comedy of Magic

Carrell, Carrey and Buscemi in The Incredible Burt Wonderstone

By David Luhrssen
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In the sleight of hand comedy, The Incredible Burt Wonderstone, Steve Carrell and Steve Buscemi pay a pair of glitsy Las Vegas show magicians confronted by Jim Carrey's "edgy" brand of contemporary performance. Consistently amusing and often laugh-out-loud funny, The Incredible Burt Wonderstone spoofs the conventions of show biz while satirizing the mindless greed of Vegas and the embrace of "extreme" entertainment—make that "Xtreme."

We meet the star of our show, Burt Wonderstone, in 1982 as picked-on grade schooler Burt Weinzelstein. The bullied boy finds his calling when mom gives him a birthday gift, Rance Holloway's "mind-blowing" magic tricks, complete with a VHS instructional tape (enhancing the '80s nostalgia) starring a photoshopped Alan Arkin as Holloway, a debonair exponent of old fashioned rabbit-from-the-hat illusion. Before he can exclaim "Alakazam!" Burt discovers his protege in the school cafeteria, the asmathic outcast Anton, and a show is born.

 As adults, the insufferably arrogant Burt (Carrell) and his not-as-dim-as-he-seems sidekick, Anton (Buscemi), will enjoy a long run in Vegas. But their act is getting a little long in tooth and gray at the edges with its lame banter between he stars, their jig to the tune of Steve Miller’s "Abracadabra" and a bag of tricks that hasn't been freshened since the first President Bush left the White House. The smirking Mafioso owner of the hotel where they have performed for years (James Gandolfini) warns that ticket sales are down. "You need a younger audience," he insists, pointing to a rising cable star, "the future of magic," Steve "Brain Raper" Gray (Carrey) as a model.

 Gray is a lit cigarette stubbed out in the face of everything stage magic has stood for over the last centuries. Tatooed, t-shirted and wearing a Charles Manson sneer of superiority, Gray slices open his face with a knife and pulls out a bloody playing card. In a televised stunt, he holds his urine for a week. "Good? Bad? I don't eat from that tray," he says, laying on the cosmic hipster malarkey. Gray embodies the trend of ugly gone mainstream.

 After an acrimonious split between Burt and Anton, Gray appears poised to seize the future of magic. Unemployed an reduced to living in a cheap motel, Burt takes a job entertaining in a nursing home where he reencounters the woman who has secretly admired him (Olivia Wilde) and meets his hero, the curmudgeonly, long-retired Holloway. The conclusion is predictable enough but the journey is entertaining along the way.

 

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