By Robert Horton Herald Movie Critic
It sometimes seems the current Hollywood comedy-making machine is sifting through a list of wacky occupations — NASCAR drivers, ice skaters, zookeepers, whatever — and then plugging in a member of the comedian stable to play the lead.
Apparently “Las Vegas magician” came up in that process, because here’s “The Incredible Burt Wonderstone,” for which the names Steve Carell and Jim Carrey got matched with said occupation (sorry, Zach Galifianakis and Kevin James). Voila! You’ve got a Hollywood comedy.
What follows is a movie with recognizable outlines: plentiful jokes about bad taste, some outrageous sight gags, a soft heart and the eventual redemption of its obnoxious protagonist.
He is Burt Wonderstone (played by Carell), a childhood nerd who found his fortune in magic. Sadly, the longtime Vegas act he shares with grade-school pal Anton Marvelton (Steve Buscemi) is breaking up, as Burt’s egomaniacal ways (and possibly his Liberace-meets-mullet stage wig) are finally too much to bear.
Plus, the magic world is changing. The kids today are only interested in the gross bodily mortifications of an edgy “street” magician, the slightly scary Steve Gray. What’s an old-school, velvet-wearing Vegas magician to do?
In the case of Burt Wonderstone, he gets fired by his vulgar boss (James Gandolfini, having a good time), falls into homelessness and returns to the mentoring of his boyhood hero (Alan Arkin, also having a good time).
There’s some love interest, in the form of a former stage assistant (a spirited Olivia Wilde), who wants to be a magician herself. Wilde is not really age-appropriate for Carell, but then neither is Buscemi, who looks 15 years older than his supposed grade-school chum.
And Jim Carrey? He plays the satanic Steve Gray, covered in tattoos and a truly glorious bad-dye wig.
At one point Carrey considered playing the lead role, but he’s done a crafty thing by going on in support. Every 10 minutes, his character returns to perform some unholy act, and Carrey plays it to the hilt. This is a great reminder of how wicked and subversive Carrey can be when he doesn’t have to play the hero.
Carell is stuck in that role here, and although he gets some laughs, especially at the height of Burt’s insufferable stardom, the part doesn’t quite fit. Carell’s slightly depressed air keeps him from completely taking off with the part.
I had lowered expectations going in to “Burt Wonderstone,” because of the glut of similar comedies lately. Maybe because of that, it went down pretty easy: There are some fun running jokes, director Don Scardino finds room for some really bizarre goofiness and Carrey supplies a jolt of octane in his regular appearances.
It’s no classic, but I’ll take it over “Identity Theft” any day.
“The Incredible Burt Wonderstone”(2½ stars)
Steve Carell is an obnoxious Las Vegas magician who hits hard times in this sporadically funny comedy. The movie’s outline is familiar enough, but it benefits from a wired-up Jim Carrey, whose turn as a revoltingly edgy “street” magician gives the film some octane every 10 minutes or so.
Rated: PG-13 for language, subject matter.
Showing: Alderwood Mall, Cinebarre, Everett Stadium, Galaxy Monroe, Marysville, Stanwood, Meridian, Thornton Place, Varsity, Woodinville, Cascade Mall, Oak Harbor.