Now you see it, now you don't.
The funny stuff, that is.
“The Incredible Burt Wonderstone” succeeds in conjuring some hilarious hocus-pocus one minute, then fails to pull any hilarity from its hat the next, depending on who is on-screen at any given moment.
Even under the direction of Emmy-winning Don Scardino (“30 Rock”) and working from a script by Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley (“Horrible Bosses”), Steve Carell can't seem to conjure much in the way of sympathy or solid laughs from the title character, a long-established Las Vegas magician with an overblown ego, a soured relationship with his performing partner and one-time best friend Anton Marvelton (Steve Buscemi) and an outdated act that's losing its marquee glow on the glittering Vegas Strip.
Carell is relentlessly one-note, unfunny and unconvincing as a self-centered jerk, in sharp contrast to Oklahoma City's own Mason Cook, 12, who, in flashback scenes, plays Burt as a bullied kid who turned to magic for self-esteem and found friendship with nerdy Anton (played as a boy by Luke Vanek), another young aspiring illusionist.
The real mirth materializes when a startlingly muscular, long-haired Jim Carrey seizes scenes as guerrilla street magician Steve Gray, who shuns glitzy theater venues in favor of ambush performances in outdoor settings, drawing crowds as much for his wild-eyed charisma as his outrageous, pain-defying physical stunts (sleeping all night on hot coals, holding his urine for days at a time, cutting holes in his skin to retrieve disappeared objects, etc).
Alan Arkin also brings some bright moments as retired old-school magician Rance Holloway, Burt and Anton's boyhood hero.
As Gray's popularity soars, the fortunes of the Incredible Burt and Anton — not to mention the last vestiges of their friendship — are about to vanish, unless they can come up with the most sensational stunt Sin City has ever seen.
Burt eventually gets his comeuppance and starts to regain his true sense of self, but it's Carrey's reliably uproarious, rubber-faced, over-the-top shtick that saves the whole show from going up in a puff of smoke.
Buscemi is woefully wasted as sidekick Anton, Olivia Wilde as Burt and Anton's “lovely assistant” Jane — aka Nicole — serves as little more than eye candy for the males, James Gandolfini barely registers as a casino boss, and Carell never quite transforms himself into a protagonist worth rooting for.
In short, “The Incredible Burt Wonderstone” doesn't quite do the trick.
— Gene Triplett