The Bottom Line
Should you see it?
There's a healthy dose of Carell doing Will Ferrell and that's fine, but the formula is tired and Carrey just doesn't bring it.
Wonderstone may be a stain on the ironed white shirt of originality, but it does have some moments. Steve Carell, in the title role, is a galactic douche and tons of fun at the beginning. He and his partner, Anton Marvelton (the earnest Steve Buscemi), form a one-two punch of magical douchebaggery that owns Las Vegas and has for ten years. They're the incumbent showmen at Bally's and the film is at its best lampooning the ridiculousness of those classic Vegas Strip magicians like David Copperfield and Siegfried and Roy. "This must be the thrill of a lifetime for you." Wonderstone tells a pretty young conquest whom he takes home after a show. Carell and Buscemi nail it early on. Their walk and talk match their insane deep-necked, sparkly outfits and flowing golden locks.
The plot of Burt Wonderstone is another story. A street magician, Steve Gray (Jim Carrey), is all the rage and Burt and Anton soon see their huge crowds dwindling down to nothing. Bally's CEO (James Gandolfini) gets rid of them and the old friends have a falling out (literally, they fall out of a Plexiglass box trying to compete with Gray). Anton disappears to humanitarian work (bringing magic to third world countries instead of food) and Burt loses his Bally's suite and must fend for himself in a dumpy hotel. Oh yes, Olivia Wilde is the token love interest/optimistic assistant who tries to help Burt, but gives up when he proves to be an even bigger douche in exile. She's there so Wonderstone can objectify her, telling her they should have sex "nakedly."
As funny as Carell and Buscemi's act is in the first half (dancing to Steve Miller's "Abracadabra" and going through the motions) they fade away after they lose it all and become "real people." We've seen these characters done many times, most notably by Will Ferrell in Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgandy. The cocky douche gets his comeuppance and embarks on a voyage of self-discovery. The trick is to make the voyage down as hilarious as it was being on top. That's why Anchorman rules, and Wonderstone doesn't.
What's also wrong about the film is it's about a decade late. Carrey's Steve Gray hosts a show called Brain Rapist obviously roasting Criss Angel and David Blaine, but those guys are long-forgotten. It's fine to get after Copperfield (who has a very unfunny cameo) since he's a microcosm of a longtime industry, but street magicians? Who gives a shit about them? Wouldn't it have made more sense to make Carrey the new formidable Vegas magician instead of a street hack and turn it into a comedic version of The Prestige? It's just weird to make fun of something that was popular 10 years ago. You don't see satires made about hula hoops or the Chocolate Rain guy.
Carrey is also wasted as Gray. He's shockingly quiet with his dialogue and his physical comedy is uncreative and sadistic (his tricks include cutting open his face and drilling a hole in his head). It's disappointing because there's potential here. Burt Wonderstone may not be original or very smart, but it's supremely silly and that kind of self-awareness is usually enough to win people over. Carrey doesn't have a serious scene or line of dialogue. He's committed to going over-the-top but the street magician thing just comes up short. Some of his stunts really work (he holds his own urine for a week), but there aren't enough of them. He's also not threatening enough as the villain. He and Wonderstone have little contact, and I couldn't help imagining Ferrell or someone on his way up, like Taran Killam, killing this role and stealing the movie.
One character who does steal scenes is Rance Holloway (Alan Arkin), Wonderstone's childhood magician idol. He has the film's best gag, which I won't ruin, but he pulls a fantastic disappearing act on his death bed. Other supporting roles, filled by Jay Mohr (?), Brad Garrett (??), and Michael Herbig (???), are lame and unnecessary. Wonderstone ends with a grand finale and reveal that comes close, but can't quite save the film's slogging second half. A little less melodrama and a little more dedication to Wonderstone's insane side would've been appreciated, but that would've meant breaking formula and that's about as rare as an original comedy these days.