Saturday, March 16, 2013

The Incredible Burt Wonderstone


This is a film about magic and magicians, and the last memorable big screen effort to have touched on this was Christopher Nolan's The Prestige, where two magicians develop an unhealthy rivalry with each other that had fatal consequences. Being a comedy, The Incredible Burt Wonderstone had those rivalry elements as well, though played more for laughs. But what's more interesting here to note is the changing fortunes of the characters, and how ti mirrors the real life situation of the actors who played them, and that itself is magic of sorts.

Back when Jim Carrey was at the top of the game and headlining Bruce Almighty, Steve Carell only had a bit role as a television anchor, but the impact of that role could not be understated because he literally blew away the competition with those limited minutes provided. Then fast forward to today in what would be their second live action collaboration, where Steve Carell had seen his stock rise while that of Jim had somewhat lost its shine through the years, although now, Steve's role as the titular magician character, comes under threat from a younger upstart played by Jim, with the latter now stealing the show with the limited minutes in the movie. It's gone past the half way mark, and whether it makes it full circle, remains to be seen.

What this film is about, if you can see past its magic, is that of something that can affect any one of us in our lives. It's about starting off with being passionate about something, and pursuing that passion wholeheartedly. But when passion has to give way to real world sensibilities, and trust me it will one day, then the crossroads will begin to challenge you, whether your passion is truly such, or will you compromise that with going through the motions, where you can begin to say hello to mediocrity. This is what the story deals with, whether passion can be sustainable for the long haul, or is it something that's valid only for a whimper.

But of course, growing up in the 80s being very much in tune to magic tricks myself, I see a lot of similarities in the fun, excitement and thrills that the movie covered, from hunting down books about tricks, getting one's hands on cheap props and naturally, performing in front of an audience, usually family and friends during gatherings, which were a blast. In Burt Wonderstone's case, it meant growing out of his nerdy shell, and becoming incredibly successful at his chosen career path, together with best pal Anton Marvelton (Steve Buscemi) they own the strip in Vegas with their magic acts, and with that comes big money, instant recognition, and alas, plenty of ego in Burt's case.

Which makes him a big A-hole character, and we're soon introduced to the fact that their partnership and friendship have become strained because success had gone to Burt's head, that he starts to treat people like dirt. And when this becomes the chink in their armour, especially with the latest sensation in street magic comes rolling into town in the form of Jim Carrey's Steven Gray and his extremely disgusting, in your face, illusions. And this is quite through though, because comparing those days of magic when growing up, with the cheesy sets, props, big costumes and hairdo, it's a far cry compared to that of today's acts, which are street-wise, with celebrity magicians sporting countless of tattoos, eyeliner and attitude. It's as if there's a general rejection of the saccharine sweet manner in which magic gets delivered, in favour of the marrying of magic with bikers from hell.

But I digress. Like most Hollywood films with its three act structure, director Don Scardino, in what would be his debut feature film project outside of his television work, most of the film deals with how Burt Wonderstone has to find his mojo back again. And this goes back, in quite serendipitous terms, to finding that one man (Alan Arkin) who had inspired him from the start. Plus that little bit of encouragement and requisite romantic interest in the form of Jane (Olivia Wilde), an aspiring magician herself, who finds the glass ceiling in her chosen profession limiting her ambitions to just being a magician's assistant.

While the middle sections may sag due to expected plot development, Don Scardino had wonderful bookends for the movie, with that almost complete sequence of A Magical Friendship that Burt and Anton performs with their music and chosen routines, and that in the finale which will, erm, knock your socks off with its sheer audacity, and of course with that tinge of slapstick comedy that runs through its end credits roll. Then there's Jim Carrey hamming it up as a renegade street magician, then you're all set for quite an enjoyable time with this film offering, that will work a lot more if you, like me, grew up being a fan of magic and shows of illusion. Recommended!

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