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Byron Shire
May 12, 2021

The Incredible Burt Wonderstone

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Film review by John Campbell


A good laugh never goes astray, especially with the grim prospect of the knuckle dragging Tony Abbott being PM barely six months away.

As comedies go, it’s not one for the time capsule, but with Steve Carell, Steve Buscemi, Jim Carrey and the irascible Alan Arkin at work (‘that’s the worst thing I’ve ever seen, and I saw my kids get born!’), you know that the humour won’t fall flat for any lack of expertise.

Burt (Carell) and Anton (Buscemi) were school buddies who grew up to be the most famous magic act on the Las Vegas strip. Typical of most longstanding arrangements, over familiarity and personal grievances raise their ugly heads, resulting in the partnership being torn apart.

On his own, Burt’s career flounders – his routine is stale, his delivery jaded and his outfit ridiculously outdated. On his uppers, he accepts the demeaning position of entertainer at a retirement home, where he is reunited with his childhood inspiration, the legendary prestidigitator Rance Holloway (Arkin). Burt is rejuvenated, but before he can re-establish his name in lights he must ward off the challenge of gonzo performer Steve Gray (Carrey).

Prior to his fall, Burt the star is vain, complacent and nasty to his mate and underlings – meaning that Carell is cast against type, and he doesn’t look altogether comfortable in the part. It is only when the tide turns against Burt that the inoffensive, uncertain Carell, the one we like, emerges. In contrast, through his reigned in ratbaggery and mocking narcissism, Carrey creates a populist who (like the aforementioned Abbott) will do anything to win the mob.

Pushing his shtick to the extremes expected by punters, Gray’s stunt in the grand finale of drilling a hole in his own head is as uproarious as it is darkly unsettling. The boys’ only chance of topping it is to pull off the disappearing audience trick – which they’ve never attempted. With terrific support from James Gandolfini as the crass resort owner, Olivia Wilde the love interest and Jay Mohr, this is funny and smart.


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