“I’ve idolized you for 10 years, and you’ve made me hate you in 60 seconds.” That’s what amateur magic enthusiast turned magician’s assistant Jane (Olivia Wilde) says to Burt Wonderstone (Steve Carell) right after she first meets him... and after he’s put the moves on her while inside a trick box being filled with swords. I don’t know about you, but that’s kind of how I felt about Burt as well. Like Blades of Glory or Balls of Fury, The Incredible Burt Wonderstone is yet another Talladega Nights knockoff about a pompous jerk who’s at the top of his unusual profession, has a big fall from grace due in part to an even more pompous rival, then claws his way back to glory.
It’s a funny thing about making a doofus the central character of your movie: if he’s legitimately stupid, like Will Ferrell's Ricky Bobby in Talladega Nights, you may find yourself rooting for him. That low IQ makes him an automatic underdog; but if he’s just a calculating jerk, like Burt Wonderstone, you might not. We certainly didn’t. I mean, Ricky Bobby is the No. 1 racecar driver because he can only count to No. 1. And when he’s dislodged from his throne, it’s because of real obstacles — a cheating wife, an ambitious best friend who becomes his rival, and a Formula One nemesis in Sacha Baron Cohen. When Burt Wonderstone loses he’s headlining gig at Bally’s in Vegas, it isn’t even due so much to Jim Carrey’s Criss Angel-wannabe street magician Steve Grey. It's because he’s just arrogant, lazy, and a bad performer. Here are 18 reasons we couldn’t root for Burt Wonderstone. (SPOILERS AHEAD!)
1. He treats his female assistants like sex slaves.
2. He insists upon calling Jane “Nicole” even though he knows that isn’t her name.
3. He makes his conquests sign a release form before having sex with him.
4. He makes his conquest Gillian Jacobs sign a release form before having sex with him.
5. He has the biggest bed in Vegas, capable of holding 24 for Caligula-style orgies.
6. He’s been doing the exact same act for 10 years, in outfits that’d look appropriate on a Europe album cover.
7. His skin makes us cry.
8. He treats his only friend, Anton Marvelton (Steve Buscemi), like dirt.
9. He’s terrified of the new, but his only response to rival Steve Grey’s “trick” of holding his urine for two weeks is to suggest holding his poop for 24 hours.
10. He terrifies the elderly by making their cherished possessions disappear.
11. He’s lost all passion for magic and is in it solely for the money.
12. He’s really bad at sleight of hand magic, and can’t even perform a simple card trick.
13. He employs dance moves straight out of a ‘90s Jazzercise class.
14. He actually says stuff like “Women Can’t Do Magic,” making him the Adam Carolla of magicians.
15. No man should expose his chest that much unless he’s named Ricardo Montalban (though it seems Steve Carell’s chest-waxing from The 40-Year-Old Virgin really stuck).
16. No man should have hair that long unless he’s named Fabio... or '90s Michael Bolton.
17. The trick that returns him to glory involves multiple felonies.
18. The only two things that make him slightly more likable than his rival Steve Grey are that he doesn’t crush a puppy as part of his act, nor call himself a "brain rapist."
The worst thing, though, about Burt Wonderstone is that he went from being a little kid who was bullied to being a great big old bully himself. Carell’s played some world-class jerks in his career — Michael Scott started out as one before becoming the underdog hero of The Office — but never one this completely unrelatable. We’d call it a “Disappearing Charm” act, except the movie never really had much charm to begin with.
What did you guys think of Burt Wonderstone. Are we being too hard on it?
Follow Christian Blauvelt on Twitter @Ctblauvelt
[Photo Credit: Warner Bros.]