The 400-Word Review:
The Incredible Burt Wonderstone
By Sean Collier
March 15, 2013

Hair by Awkward Family Photos.

Oh, for the comedy that might’ve been.

The Incredible Burt Wonderstone is an acceptable enough diversion, a minimally over-the-top riff on the world of Vegas magicians.

Steve Carell and Steve Buscemi star as a duo of stage illusionists, past their prime and badly in need of a rewrite; Olivia Wilde is their put-upon assistant, a hopeful young performer looking for a break. Jim Carrey is the Criss Angel stand-in, a viral-video street performer who injures himself in lieu of actual entertainment. James Gandolfini (surprisingly, the most refreshing of the performers) is a smarmy casino mogul.

Carell gets too full of himself and ruins an act, he and Buscemi have a rocky break-up, a childhood idol swoops in to inspire, a big-stakes competition arises. You know — a movie.

The unfortunate slight-of-hand, however, is the one that tries to turn viewers away from the more interesting movie that wasn’t made. The best scene in Burt Wonderstone forces Carell and Carrey to engage in an impromptu trick-off at a party; as the two gifted comic performers up their acts, the audience (on-screen and off) grow more engaged than they have at any other point.

So why wasn’t that the story?

Start the flick the same way — Carell and Buscemi are slipping, they have a break-up. Buscemi allies with Carrey to combine smarts and insanity into a new act; Wilde strikes out on her own. Carell must find a way to compete. Most of the movie is scenes like the one good one that made it through.

Would that have been so much harder? Wonderstone reeks of a poor executive decision; perhaps this producer or that (11 are listed on IMDb) instructed one of the (four) writers to make it more of a typical story, appeal to all the key demos and whatnot. Perhaps that gives too much credit; maybe none of those scribes, led by Jonathan Goldstein (Horrible Bosses) and John Francis Daley (best known as the protagonist of “Freaks and Geeks”) saw the obviously better idea in front of them.

In a reality-competition world, it seems too obvious to have been missed.

What’s left is okay. There are plenty of funny people around, and a number of entertaining sequences and decent laughs. But Wonderstone struggles to find much of a rhythm, and fails to distinguish itself. With all the ammunition it had, that has to be considered a serious disappointment.

Sean Collier is the Associate Editor of Pittsburgh Magazine and a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association. Read more from Sean at