While positing the reasonable question of what happened to the wonder and marvel of a simple magic trick, audiences will wonder at what happened to the comedy and humor in 'The Incredible Burt Wonderstone.' Sure, the story of a Las Vegas illusionist rediscovering his inner magician garners a few laughs here and there, but overall, the movie from television director Don Scardino is a forgettable 100-minute leaden chore centered on a myopic character that deserves to fade into obscurity rather than be redeemed.
Apparently, and according to a script that traveled through several rewrites between various hands since 2008 like a hot potato, modern-day conjurers are more keen on endurance stunts and acts of shocking gore than traditional feats of illusion and sleight of hand tricks. A cartoonish mishmash of Criss Angel and David Blaine rolled into one, Jim Carrey plays the absurdly wild street-magician Steve Gray, who goes to punishingly grueling extremes to attract an audience. Largely unfunny and obnoxiously egocentric, the character is meant as a plot device in the background, but Carrey makes him repulsively loud, constantly vying for the camera with physical stunts that only suck the humor out of the story.
The supposed headlining act is Steve Carell and Steve Buscemi as the magical duo Burt Wonderstone and Anton Marvelton, an only-somewhat comical caricature of Sigfried & Roy. With big, lion-like hair and wearing matching gaudy sequin outfits, the pair has performed the same feats of spectacular misdirection for over a decade, and the routine is wearing the friendship very thin as Burt's self-important personality grows bigger than the stage performance. One of several problematic aspects with the script is a subplot focused on the deterioration of this friendship, coupled with Burt feeling passé and obsolete in the eyes of his boss (the late James Gandolfini). On top of that, we have the main plot, where Carell and Carrey's egos clash for the inevitable magic face-off where Burt's once outdated tricks of illusion still reign supreme.
Perhaps — and this is a big perhaps — the comedy wouldn't be so bad if the characters were more likable and less reprehensible, particularly in Carell's Wonderstone who we are meant to cheer. As a pompous braggadocio whose fame fades quicker than his stage assistants quit, Burt's sexism is atrociously out of place in the 21st Century, and we're never given the slightest hint of a redeemable quality in the performance. Olivia Wilde's Jane says it best that it only take Carell ten seconds to make us despise him. Speaking of which, Wilde, Buscemi and Gandolfini are completely wasted in their respective roles, reduced to being nothing more than prop pieces in the service of the main attraction that is supposed to be Carell versus Carrey.
Ultimately, the whole dreary experience amounts to an endurance test on audiences' patience while the main actors fight for the spotlight. Like the ridiculous stunt of locking one's self inside a glass box or worse, holding one's urine for over a week, the characters are desperate for attention, willing to do anything so long as eyes remain on them and crowds cheer for more self-punishment and self-deprecation. Sadly, the same can be said of the movie as a whole, because this is really beneath the talents of the entire cast. 'The Incredible Burt Wonderstone' is neither incredible nor dazzling. In the words of Rance Holloway's (Alan Arkin) criticism of Burt's technique: it lacks pizzazz, passion and joy.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Warner Home Video brings 'The Incredible Burt Wonderstone' to Blu-ray as a two-disc combo pack with an UltraViolet Digital Copy. The Region Free, BD50 disc sits opposite to a DVD-9 copy inside a blue eco-cutout case with a glossy slipcover. At startup, viewers can skip over a brief promo to a static menu screen with generic options and music.
'Burt Wonderstone' makes his big Blu-ray debut with a 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode that often razzle-dazzles and amazes, but mostly fizzles out and generally pleases. Definition and clarity are excellent for the most part with distinct fine lines in the ridiculous hairdos and the rather garish outfits. Burt's sparkling velvet suit, especially, shines while also exposing each individual sequin. Facial complexions show incredible lifelike textures in various scenes, revealing the tiniest blemish and wrinkle. Unfortunately, the video is not all that consistent, showing just as many softer moments as there are excellent detailed ones. They're not too terrible but noticeable nonetheless, bringing the overall show down a notch.
As for the rest of the 2.40:1 image, it's pleasing and satisfying, with sharp, well-balanced contrast, giving the otherwise disappointing illusion a vibrant, upbeat feel. Primaries are also bold and animated while secondary hues show plenty of warmth and rich saturation. Blacks are mostly deep and accurate with strong shadow delineation, providing a bit of depth to the overall transfer. All in all, the presentation puts on a good show with little to complain about.
Probably the most disappointing area of the whole disc is in the audio department. The DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack is generally a front-heavy presentation, which wouldn't be all that bad if it didn't also sound pretty flat and bland. Considering this is a movie having to do with loud, gaudy Las Vegas-style acts, it's reasonable to expect this lossless mix to really wow audiences, but it bearable musters enough energy to keep viewers engaged. Dialogue is precise and well-prioritized in the center, and channel separation is well-balanced with excellent panning effects, creating a nice, broad soundstage. The mid-range is clean and consistent but not very dynamic or showing a great deal of range. Low bass is mostly reserved for the music, and sounds fairly weak compared to the rest. Surrounds speakers are practically nonexistent as nothing of real note ever happens. Not even the music of Lyle Workman seems to spread into the back, making this high-rez track pretty average and plain overall.
Given the cast and the plot, 'The Incredible Burt Wonderstone' had the potential to amaze and astound audiences with the magic of comedy. Instead, director Don Scardino delivers a less-than-average endurance stunt without a significant payoff, becoming an embarrassing blemish on the resumes of otherwise good actors. The Blu-ray arrives with a good video transfer but a disappointing audio presentation. Supplements are not only small but rather weak, making the overall package a rental at best.