It isn't unusual to hear of successful comedians and comedic actors who claim bullying as part of what caused them to evolve into the successful people they became. After all, when given the choice of fight or flight (which both would usually result in a physical and/or emotional beating), why not make them laugh instead? So, such victims then became the class clowns and -- particularly considering they had a tougher than normal "audience" -- honed their skills on the fly and then parlayed that into a career.
I'm sure there have been other vocations that have developed from being on the receiving end of bullying -- the kid who decided to bulk up to protect himself and then became an athlete in the process, another who ran for class president in order to have power and respect and went into politics or become a CEO -- but the one you rarely hear about, but which would make perfect sense, is kids who used magic to rid themselves of their tormentors.
I'm not talking Hogwarts or decidedly darker supernatural behavior, but rather the sleight of hand variety that could potentially impress the bullies (or make them the butt of public humiliation in front of others) or even the dangerous stunt kind that could make the mean kids think twice about tangling with such crazy sorts.
Indeed, it's a bullying incident that marks the pivotal beginning of "The Incredible Burt Wonderstone," a fictional tale of a boy who escaped through magic and turned that into a profession as an adult (Steve Carell) after partnering with his equally put-upon childhood friend (Steve Buscemi). It's a mixed bag of a movie, predictable and repetitive at times and outrageously hilarious at others. Unfortunately, it exits that 1982 prologue too soon (and thus misses out on our pleasure of watching the bullies be put into their place) in favor of segueing into the current story about a man who's lost his enthusiasm for magic and is just going through the motions in his self-centered, "I'm all that" existence.
In a way, Carell's Wonderstone is something of a cousin to his character on "The Office," another fellow who got too big for his britches, as they used to like to say, and focused solely on himself and his own pleasures. As a result, it's not much of a stretch for the actor to inhabit this part, which some may view as a good thing, and others as bad in terms of seemingly simply painting a new veneer on a recycled product.
As directed by Don Scardino from a screenplay by Jonathan Goldstein & John Francis Daley, it's your standard tale of a person who's lost their mojo, has a fall from grace, and must then claw his way back into significance, albeit as a now changed man. Accordingly, the pic won't win any kudos for originality, even if there surprisingly aren't that many films about magicians as protagonists. And like many a film about comedians that surprisingly ends up not being that funny, this flick isn't terribly magical or awe-inspiring.
I'll admit, though, that I haven't laughed that hard in random spurts as I did with this flick. And much of that stemmed from the work of Jim Carrey as a David Blaine meets Criss Angel sort of street magician who goes to extreme measures to entertain his audience. Taking their sometimes shocking stunts to exaggerated heights (or depths depending on how one views such acts), those bits evoked quite a few belly laughs from yours truly, as did other random bits of material here and there. Much of your reaction will greatly depend on how you tolerate or accept Carrey's brand of "out there" physical comedy, but I couldn't help myself from enjoying much of that.
Thankfully (and wisely), the filmmakers don't overdo that shtick and thus wear out its welcome before this 100-some minute comedy runs its course. That said, when Carrey is MIA, the film isn't as hilarious, although it has its share of funny to amusing moments scattered throughout.
As the title would suggest, the flick is mostly about Carell's initially unlikable character (what with him routinely putting down others), and the performer is decent doing the bits. Buscemi has some decent moments but is really playing second fiddle, while Olivia Wilde is decent as the pretty face and voice of reason. Supporting performances from the likes of James Gandolfini are okay, but as has been the track record of recent, Alan Arkin steals the show whenever he's allowed to jump in playing a retired magician who helps the protagonist get back on track.
Overall, I found the film entertaining enough to warrant a slight recommendation, mainly due to the aforementioned big belly laugh moments. I just wish the pic had been smarter in dealing with the material, perhaps more magical overall to tie in with its subject matter, and spent more time giving the bullies their comeuppance, be that in the past or now as the kind of grown-ups who've conveniently forgotten their past role as tormentors of others. "The Incredible Burt Wonderstone" rates as a 5.5 out of 10.