Sometimes comedies carry a message, sometimes they are just entertaining and fun, and sometimes they wander into useless drama. The Incredible Burt Wonderstone walks through all of these stages, ending with some very funny moments. In between, though, there are some sleeper moments and some of the material is not suitable for children. Nevertheless, this is a story that portrays how easily success can seduce one and how we often have to learn the hard way what is most important in our lives.
Burt (Mason Cook as a child) grew up being bullied by the neighborhood boys, and longed to fit in. To his delight, he receives a special birthday present from his mother in the form of an amazing magician’s kit marketed by the grand magician Rance Holloway (Alan Arkin). When Burt tries out his new magic tricks on a buddy friend, Anton (Luke Vanek as a child), he too falls in love with magic. From this lowly beginning, a life-long friendship developed between Burt and Anton, an act emerges, and the rest is showbiz history.
Twenty years later, Burt Wonderstone (Steve Carrell) and Anton Marvelton (Steve Buscemi) have become the biggest razzle-dazzle show on the Las Vegas strip. With fame comes temptation and a false sense of self-worth. It becomes too easy and seductive to believe the flattery that others bestow on you, and along with it comes the temptation to use people and love things instead of the other way around.
The challenge that crashes into Burt and Anton’s lives comes in the form of “the next big act” to hit the strip – Steve Gray’s (Jim Carrey) shock-jock magic tricks that both stun the audience with revulsion and amaze them with startling reality-TV-effects such as self-mutilation. Soon, fickle audiences want something new and brutal causing Burt and Anton’s traditional card tricks and disappearing tigers to have lost their magic.
With the loss of their fan base, Las Vegas tosses them aside and seeks the next big draw to their casinos. It takes a while for Burt to realize how the mighty hath fallen, but eventually reality must be faced and the collateral damage comes in both the loss of friendship between Burt and Anton and the collapse of the lifestyle their fame allowed them to enjoy.
After wandering in the wilderness for a few years, Burt and Anton are given the opportunity to compete against Steve Gray for a new act at Doug Munny’s (James Gandolfini) newest grand hotel in Los Vegas. In order to compete though, Burt and Anton have to realize how important their friendship is to each other, superseding the value of their act.
With their priorities now back in order, Burt and Anton decide, with the encouragement of their now aging mentor Rance Holloway whom Burt has befriended in an old-entertainer’s home, to attempt the biggest trick ever performed on the stage – causing the audience to disappear and then reappear before their eyes. What transpires is a comedic triumph.
Burt and Anton’s experience portrays the American dream of fame and fortune. It also portrays the false illusions that such a life offers, and how easily we can lose the things that are of most value to us – our friends and family. In the end, it is this lesson that is neither funny nor entertaining, but it gives us hope that through life’s lessons we can come to a much clearer understanding of what is important in life.
Discussion for those who have seen this film:
1. The illusion of wealth and fame is a pervasive temptation to many of us. How have you kept your life grounded in reality?
2. Have you ever sacrificed a friendship in order to get ahead in your professional or business life? What happened inwardly when you made such a choice and how did you live with it or correct it?
3. Why do you think the concept of magic is so captivating?
Cinema In Focus is a social and spiritual movie commentary. Hal Conklin is former mayor of Santa Barbara and Denny Wayman is pastor of the Free Methodist Church of Santa Barbara. For more reviews: www.cinemainfocus.com.