Its joke is that Burt Wonderstone (Steve Carell, Hope Springs) and Anton Marvelton (Steve Buscemi, TV’s Boardwalk Empire) are improbably coiffed stage magicians in Vegas à la Siegfried & Roy, but without the tigers. As glitzy and showy as they are painfully unhip, the two friends have been working together for 30 years, but a wedge is driven between them with the sudden on-the-scene arrival of “street magician” Steve Gray (Jim Carrey, Mr. Popper’s Penguins).
An obvious poke at Criss Angel and David Blaine, Gray bills himself as the Brain Rapist and specializes in human-pincushion tricks that put his body at risk for the delight of audiences. Wonderstone and Marvelton’s old-school illusions can’t compete, and their attendance suffers.
Carrey brings a great deal of his once-white-hot clownery to the show, but he’s merely a supporting player. The bulk of the film follows the egotistical Burt post-split as he Learns Lessons and Finds His Heart, via wise words provided by his magic mentor (Alan Arkin, Argo).
That’s not what people want from a Carell vehicle, especially from one whose comedic deck is stacked so high. The finale recaptures a tad of Wonderstone’s initial mischief — too little, too late. It’s nice to see Buscemi get to exercise his comic chops, and it’s nice to see Olivia Wilde (The Change-Up) — in anything, really. We also have one of the final appearances of the late, great James Gandolfini (TV’s The Sopranos), as a fatuous Vegas hotelier.
As director, Don Scardino is a career TV veteran, including 30 Rock; Wonderstone represents his first shot at the big screen, and predictably, he approaches it like he does the small one. The script is by Jonathan M. Goldstein and John Francis Daley, the team behind 2011’s hilarious Horrible Bosses, whose nasty streak this effort could use. I suspect it once was there. —Rod Lott