The Incredible Burt Wonderstone (M) 3.5 stars
Steve Carell, Steve Buscemi, Jim Carrey
DIRECTOR DON SCARDINO
REVIEW MARK NAGLAZAS
You will like this if you liked Anchorman, Zoolander, Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, Blades of Glory.
In the most painfully memorable scene in his big-screen breakthrough in The 40 Year Old Virgin, the hilariously hirsute Steve Carell had all of his chest hair removed with such ferocity it's like watching a scalping in an old John Wayne western.
Amusingly, in his new movie, the funny and oddly touching Las Vegas-set comedy The Incredible Burt Wonderstone, the chest of Carell's title character is smooth and tanned, more like the bottom of a pole dancer than anything that should be sported by an adult male.
Carell's polished pecs are just some of the myriad makeup and costume details that make you laugh the minute you lay eyes on Burt Wonderstone, a superstar magician in the David Copperfield mould who each night climbs into an Elvis-style jumpsuit and sleepwalks through an act he and his partner Anton Marvelton (Steve Buscemi) have done a thousands times before.
Burt is now so bored with the routine, which begins every night with a laughably stiff dance routine to Steve Miller's Abracadabra, that he uses the show to pluck another attractive fan from the audience, include her in the act then have sex (but not before signing a contract to say it was consensual).
Carell normally plays likeable little guys so it's a pleasant surprise to see him as the kind of moronic, preening, narcissistic creep usually incarnated by Will Ferrell (see Anchorman etc).
So while The Incredible Burt Wonderstone has the edginess you expect of an American comedy in the era of Judd Apatow, especially one featuring Jim Carrey as a tattooed, self-harming street magician who challenges and inspires Burt and Anton, Carell brings a little more heart and believability to the hero's redemptive journey.
That journey is back to Burt's roots as a magician. He and his childhood friend Anton started out with card tricks and plucking coins from behind people ears - but now they've curdled into the magician's equivalent of one of those self-aggrandising, big-haired 1980s rock acts, overbearing bores more interested in the perks (the girls, the swish hotels) than genuinely connecting with an audience.
That trek back in time begins when James Gandolfini's blustering hotel owner tells them that he wants something new and edgy - something like what is being delivered by Carrey's Steve Gray, an extreme magician who slices open his face to find a disappeared playing card and doesn't just walk on hot coals but spends the night sleeping on them.
The pair's attempt to emulate Steve high above Vegas in a perspex box ends disastrously, sending Anton to Africa where he brings magic sets to impoverished children (they would rather have food and water) and the broke Burt to do tricks in a retirement home, where he faces the old magician who inspired him (Alan Arkin again in top curmudgeonly form).
Carell's self-deluding cheese ball is amusing and he brings just enough heart to his rediscovery of his earlier self but not so much that it becomes irksome. His performance is a well-judged balance of off-the-wall antics and traditional Hollywood sentimentality and uplift.
But the movie belongs to Carrey, who despite limited screen time as Steve Gray, the buffed Criss Angel-inspired performance artist whose warrior-philosopher approach to magic disguises his careerism and desperation for a Vegas gig, reminds us of the dangerous, inspired comic genius who's gone missing in recent years.The Incredible Burt Wonderstone also has fun deconstructing a few of the magic tricks, most hilariously showing us how Burt and Anton pull off the illusion of a lifetime. It reveals that there is nothing old showman won't do for a gasp or a laugh.
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