Magic and illusions have always awed and inspired people, especially the youngsters. I remember watching the Pendragons when I was a little boy and being totally captivated by their showmanship, their stage presence, and the elegance with which they sawed people in half and dove through massive rotating fans. I don’t think I ever wanted to be an illusionist, but the spectacle of their art filled me with excitement. It’s this same spectacle that inspires Albert Wunderstein (Steve Carell) to become a magician, but where the Pendragons gave us innovation, Albert just gives us banality.
He does what every young boy with a magic set would do: he tries to master the tricks within the box. They’re your standard routines: metal rings, balls and cups, the knot, the vanishing handkerchief, the good old top hat, among others. He is completely captivated by the instructional video, where a youngified Alan Arkin blows a bird out of his mouth. From there, he practices day in and day out, and after catching the attention of a young blonde boy — who needs to take testosterone because he is so close to becoming a girl — he works his way to the very top.
And where is this top? Where else? Las Vegas. We jump a number of years. Albert and Anthony (Steve Buscemi) are now adults. They go by the names Burt and Anton, they perform in front of packed halls, and they’ve got matching flashy outfits (that resemble Siegfried and Roy’s). We don’t know how they’ve come to this point; all we know is that Burt is happy being where he is, and Anton wants to revolutionise their show. I can see why Anton would think this way, especially when the two start every single one of their shows with the song “Abracadabra”, followed by a dance routine that’s really meant for a cheap pub crowd. Nevertheless, they are — magically — famous, and their audience never fails to laugh at their horrendous innuendos.
After stumbling upon a street magician named Steve Gray (Jim Carrey) — who doesn’t so much perform illusions as he does inflict a copious amount of bodily harm unto himself — Burt begins to feel threatened (even though he outwardly condemns Steve for tainting the name of magic). What follows is not so much a rivalry as it is a very predictable journey of self discovery for Burt, who must realise that magic is not about the magician, it’s about making the magician’s audience fall in love with the spectacle.
I can safely say that I had high hopes for this movie, and it certainly has its positive points. Carell’s and Buscemi’s chemistry, while not entirely convincing, is enough to see us through the hour and forty-five minutes. I should probably narrow Buscemi out and say that I enjoyed his rare slip into a comedic role, and that his dance with Carell during their first live show is hilarious. Arkin and Carrey, too, bring a lot to the table, and one could say that they carry the film more than Carell does. Carrey is effortless with his handling of magic’s dark side, but being Carrey, he takes everything to insane new levels. Just watch him hold his pee in for god knows how long, or lie down on a bed of burning coal, or actually slice open his cheek to produce his audience member’s card. If he’s not a stab at Criss Angel, I don’t know who is.
But Wonderstone’s flaws are many, and certainly not far between. And the most glaring letdown has to be the screenplay. For a movie that’s both parodying and glorifying magic, its ability to surprise us with new material is not magical at all. In fact it’s quite the opposite. Arkin’s character is a rip off of Rip Torn’s character in Dodgeball, and the journey Carell takes as he tries to right all the wrongs he’s done is un-engaging to say the least.
From its posters I thought this movie had a lot of potential, but after having experienced its worn out and languid narrative, I feel like all the magic it was supposed to inspire has been replaced by nothing more than a cheap comedic formula that only exists to milk as many cheap laughs from its audience as it can.
Best Moment | Well it’s hard to choose any moment worth mentioning, so I’ll just choose the one that comes to my head first: Buscemi’s dance with Carell. Just watch the seriousness on his face.
Worst Moment | Again, I’m going for the moment I remember first, and that’s Arkin explaining how he managed to change salt into a bird. “It’s partially deboned”