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The Las Vegas stage act of showbiz magicians, Burt Wonderstone (Carell) and Anton Marvelton (Buscemi), has grown hackneyed over the years; the movie that recounts the highs and lows of their shared careers shows more zip and pizzazz – but not much. With a plot that seems overly familiar and jokes that are more amusing than hilarious, The Incredible Burt Wonderstone draws a lot of goodwill from the basic likability of its star performers.
The film tells the story of two childhood outcasts who find their calling and a lifetime friendship in an instructional box of magic tricks one receives as a birthday present. After a prologue establishes their early magical kismet, the film picks up on the Sunset Strip where the duo performs as a longtime Vegas act in a casino theatre that bears their names. But with their unvarying patter and stage moves, their act has grown as stale as Burt’s perpetual tan. Competition has come calling in the guise of Steve Gray (Carrey), a snarky, long-haired street magician who practices sensationalistic tricks, à la Criss Angel, in a style that might be dubbed exxxtreme magic. Casino owner Doug Munny (Gandolfini) forces them to update their act, but Burt and Anton squabble instead.
Carell derives a lot of humor from the character’s insufferable egocentrism, and, while it’s always entertaining, it’s nothing new for this actor. Buscemi proves to be a delight as a comic leading man, while Olivia Wilde has too little to do as a fellow magician and potential love interest. Burt’s fall from grace is an inevitable show-business story, though he spends too little time scraping the bottom for the audience to believe that he has truly received his comeuppance. As he frequently does these days, Alan Arkin steals every one of his scenes. This comedy (which was the opening-night film at this year's SXSW Film Festival) is, ultimately, a lighthearted distraction, but “incredible” it is not.