If I look back on my childhood, there’s probably one film star that had the greatest impact on me. That actor would be Jim Carrey. 1994 was something of a revelation for the pre-teen Phage. We had Ace Ventura, Dumb & Dumber and The Mask all hit our cinemas. You’re doubting the impact these films had on me as an impressionable youth aren’t you? Well, suffice it to say that I actually took to wearing Hawaiian shirts unbuttoned, with a vest underneath. I went out in public like that! I even did the little neck twitches that Carrey would do in Ace Ventura too. I’m glad the feeling of “shame” hadn’t kicked in at such a tender age. Thankfully, I think very few photos exist of that period of my life. Now, almost 20 years later, Jim Carrey is still doing his thing on our screens. Sure, he’s had some duds, but he’s also starred in some modern day classics. How does The Incredible Burt Wonderstone fare though?
The Incredible Burt Wonderstone is about magic. The large scale magic shows that cascade through Vegas like some flashy river. The eponymous character, Burt (Steve Carell) has been in the magic game since he was a little kid. Shunned by his classmates, he turns to magic courtesy of a magic kit his mother left him. This triggers a friendship with another school loner, Anton Marvelton (Steve Buscemi) and together they go on to become “The Incredible Burt Wonderstone and Anton Marvelton” in their adult years. But things aren’t peachy behind the scenes. Aside from their worn friendship, there are egotistical issues and the fact that their style of bombastic magic is no longer “in vogue”. People don’t want David Copperfield any more. They want the Criss Angels, David Blaines and Dynamos of the magic world. Street performers with a dangerous edge. Cue Jim Carrey as Steve Gray (who is Criss Angel in everything but name) with his show Brain Rapist (Angel‘s show is Mind Freak)… a guy who is definitely stealing their thunder.
I think The Incredible Burt Wonderstone makes a lot more sense and is vastly more enjoyable if you know a little about magic acts. Especially how magic has changed since the 1980’s and 1990’s. Big illusions are out, “mind freaking” up close is in. If you bear this in mind, and know some of Criss Angel‘s work, you’ll see what this film is trying to do… or I think you might. The film is quite confused in its tone. It doesn’t know whether to send up the world of magic as a comedy, or play out like a traditional buddy film and actually respect the art of magic. It would have worked far better as one or the other, and not the mish-mash that actually is revealed from behind the red curtain.
The problems with the film stem mainly from the scripting here. We all know that Steve Carell, Steve Buscemi and Jim Carrey are extremely bankable actors. The first and last in that list have proven chemistry from films such as Bruce Almighty, and Steve Buscemi is just a seminal actor. But the movie falls flat quite often. The laughs are few and far between, which is pretty unacceptable for a comedy. Most of them come from the ridiculousness of Steve Gray’s bizarre stunts, and even those types of laughs don’t really appeal all too well to an international (read: British) audience. I was genuinely excited by the prospect of the film when I saw Carell and Carrey were reuniting again, which may have fed this sense of being underwhelmed that I had throughout the film.
However, nothing can be taken away from Jim Carrey‘s performance here. He’s back on the “full tilt madness” setting that characterised his earlier movies: rubber faces, crazy eyes and being generally… Jim Carrey like. Alrighty then! Although I felt that his character’s “appeal” grew increasingly thin over the length of the film, his presence on-screen made every one of his scenes the most memorable parts. As for Carell and Buscemi? Well… they’re just there. Their story is plainly obvious from the start and you can predict the plot points from the outset. Having said that, I thought that the ending of the movie was genuinely heart warming and quite charming. It actually made me question how harshly I’d been viewing the movie since the titles appeared. I wondered whether I should award The Incredible Burt Wonderstone with a higher score than I’d planned… but you can’t pull off that type of illusion. Not on The Phage. My verdict is resolute and absolute.
The Incredible Burt Wonderstone promised much more than it could provide. Sure, Jim Carrey is on sterling form, which makes his appearance in Kick-Ass 2 all the more anticipated, but the script and subsequent parts played by Steve Carell and Steve Buscemi were underwhelming and quite tiresome. But the biggest problem? The laughs just weren’t there. This is a film that will make magic fans titter, but if you have no idea who Criss Angel is, then this film will fall flat. And also, can I point out that Jim Carrey‘s character is NOT meant to be an aping of David Blaine. His name is Steve Gray… and he presents a show called Brain Rapist. He’s topless a lot, has long hair and is covered in tattoos. Criss Angel presents a show called Mind Freak, is topless a lot, has long hair and is covered in tattoos. Shazam.
And although I don’t feel the urge to dress up as Jim Carrey / Steve Gray / Criss Angel, this film reminds me just why I idolised Jim Carrey so much years ago. He’s still a funny guy and has an indisputably unique comedic talent. Sure, it’s waned at times, but I predict that 2013-14 will be his resurgence. We’ve got Kick-Ass 2 and Dumb & Dumber to to look forward to (too many to’s). And I can’t wait!