Being a flashy magician with a full-time gig at Bally's Las Vegas probably appears to be pretty spectacular to you.
(And it is, thank you very much.)
Of course you average Joes would likely also think that someone would have to be pretty incredible to actually have Incredible as a part of his stage name.
(Not that I would ever brag about that … to more than a few thousand intimate friends at any given time.)
But I'm really a humble guy. I remember my early days. Oh, yes, those days of innocent youth. Ha, ha, I remember them well. Back when I was simply Albert Weinselstein, a kid who was regularly picked on at school. Back when I received my first magic kit on my 10th birthday and abracadabra! I was whisked away into the joys, the wonder, the awe of that magical thing called … well, it's called magic. Back when I dazzled my new friend Anthony with a few tricks I learned. Back when we became partners, became The Incredible Burt and Anton!
(And make no mistake: That Incredible part was all about me!)
Twenty years later and we were at the top of our game. Anton brought little things like business acumen, good ideas and friendship to the partnership. But I … I brought the magic. Incredible magic.
(Anybody'll tell you, of course, that there's no I in incredible … well, OK, there is, but you still see the bigger picture here, don't you? OK, maybe you don't.)
The point is, The Incredible Burt Wondersone is all about the teamwork, but I don't need anyone—even Anton—telling me I have to change up my act. So what if some new brand of illusionist magic is all the rage? So what if our audience is getting smaller? And older. So what if we're losing our Bally's contract? The masses will come back around to the classics. And if Anton can't see that, well, Burt Wonderstone will just have to go solo. I'll devise my own show. Something timeless. Something eye-catching. It just needs one thing … Incredible!
(Well, what I mean is that it needs to be incredible. Oh, never mind.)
Although Burt and Anton's relationship crumbles for a while—thanks in no small part to Burt's, uh, incredible ego—eventually they realize just how much they need each other's friendship. Burt also realizes that he's lost his joy in just about everything—especially magic—and that he needs to reassess the things of value in his life.
The Criss Angel-like magician/illusionist Steve Gray evokes Scripture after one of his performances when he says, "As it was in the beginning, so shall it be in the end."
Thanks to his relatively incredible fame, Burt routinely expects the women he meets to have sex with him. In one case we see him go through his "lead up to sex" routine with a woman from the audience, seducing her, taking her to his bedroom and … having her sign a release form. We see this woman in bed in her bra and panties.
Backstage, we see Burt and Anton's assistant Jane's shirt get stripped off, leaving her dressed in a skimpy bra that she quickly tries to cover up. Burt and Anton "sandwich" another comely assistant—rubbing themselves against her clothed body. Burt and Jane kiss passionately and flop down together on a bed (where he "magically" pulls her bra out from under her blouse). Numerous sex jokes include references to body parts, sexual activities and condoms.
Although audiences seem to believe that Steve Gray's painful-looking performances are all illusions, we quickly realize he is indeed harming himself. And the movie plays his "antics" for laughs, of course. He lets himself be punched in the face, cuts his bruised face open with a razor blade and then sews it back up with needle and thread, sears his flesh while lying on red-hot coals, burns a message into his arm over an open flame, pounds a nail into a table with his forehead, and drills into his own brain with a power drill (causing one eye to permanently cross).
Burt and Anton try getting into the illusionist/street magic act as well, but end up falling from a great height, breaking Anton's ankles and several ribs. We see a lion tamer in a few scenes, each time with a different part of his body bandaged from a big cat attack. A boy is punched in the stomach by a bully. Unconscious audience members are manhandled by stage crew guys who drag them by their ankles and toss them around behind the scenes like sacks of potatoes.
Crude or Profane Language
One f-word and about 10 s-words. Scattered uses of "h‑‑‑," "b‑‑ch" and "b‑‑tard." God's and Jesus' names are together misused over a dozen times; God's name is combined with "d‑‑n" five or six times.
Drug and Alcohol Content
Magicians gather in a bar and chat while tossing back mixed drinks. A discouraged Burt gets drunk, downing a large glass of booze while lying naked in his bathtub. Anton discovers a toxic leaf in Cambodia that natives use to knock themselves out for hours at a time. We see one man keel over sideways while chewing the stuff, and Burt and Anton experiment heavily with the substance. They lose consciousness themselves under its influence, then use it to secretly render an entire audience unconscious. A young Anthony pulls out several bottles of prescription drugs from his lunchbox.
Other Negative Elements
When childhood pals Albert and Anthony first meet, Anthony explains his reason for taking testosterone pills, admitting, "My doctor says I'm dangerously close to being a girl." Steve Gray provokes an audience member by cracking several jokes about the man's mother being a prostitute. There are vomit and urine gags in the mix. And Burt calls Gray's act "monkey porn," complaining that all the man does is "mumble and cut himself … my niece does that."
This is a movie that wants to wave its arms and make you believe. It wants you to ooh and ahh at its comical magicking, its precarious balance of giggles and crudities. The likeable players give it their all to keep the patter flowing and the colored scarves flying. They really work at misdirecting your attention with clever kitsch and sleight of hand chuckles.
There's really nothing in the old top hat this time around. There's little worth seeing hidden up the sleeve. The lowball sex gags and lame one-liners printed on the bent and folded index card tucked inside this flick's tattered tux are tired and, often, just plain foul. And the program of chicanery has been played before to much better effect.
Which is all pretty ironic, really, since this is a story about a pallid performer who's trying to deliver something fresh for once.
(For once?! Really? Me? The Incredible Burt Wonderstone?)
Other Belief Systems
Readability Age Range
Steve Carell as Burt Wonderstone; Steve Buscemi as Anton Marvelton; Olivia Wilde as Jane; Jim Carrey as Steve Gray; James Gandolfini as Doug Munny; Alan Arkin as Rance Holloway
March 15, 2013
Bob Hoose Bob Hoose