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The Incredible Burt Wonderstone, Dead Man Down
by M. Faust
Down but not out
The Incredible Burt Wonderstone
I don’t know for a fact that Will Farrell was offered the script for The Incredible Burt Wonderstone, but if he was you can’t blame him for turning it down: It’s the kind of part he seems to have down a thousand times, in movies like Anchorman, Talladega Nights, and Semi-Pro, the superstar in a weird niche of show business who has to rebuild his career after he gets knocked of his perch by a newcomer.
In this case the niche is Las Vegas magic shows—imagine Siegfried & Roy without the tigers. Taking the Farrell role is Steve Carell as the titular Wonderstone, who with his partner and childhood friend Anton Marvelton (Steve Buscemi, light years away from Boardwalk Empire’s Nucky Thompson) has spent a decade as a top Vegas draw. Success has taken Burt from friendless nerd to arrogant cynic who even sleepwalks through his seductions (in one of the film’s funnier moments). But when his abuse finally drives his partner away he hits the skids, unable to freshen up his tired act.
Watching Burt’s audience yawn as he goes through the motions of tired routines is like looking in a mirror at ourselves watching this movie: We’ve seen the plot a dozen times, and not only does this iteration not add anything new, it’s incapable of connecting its own dots. Take Jim Carrey in a supporting role as the up-and-comer who steals the spotlight with Jackass-style stunts of physical abuse: We expect him to square off against Burt in a climactic showdown, but instead he’s inconsequentially written out of the plot.
The Incredible Burt Wonderstone has a few inspired bits, including Carell trying to do a stage routine designed for three people and an epilogue showing how an “impossible” stage illusion was created. (It still wouldn’t work, but at least it’s funny.) But the script is so weak that the able cast is reduced to mugging and making funny noises for laughs, particularly Alan Arkin (as the elderly magician who inspired Burt) in a faux deathbed scene.
Watch the trailer for The Incredible Burt Wonderstone
Dead Man Down
For those obsessed with box office numbers, the big story last weekend was the failure of Dead Man Down, the thriller starring Colin Farrell that only took in $5.35 million on 2,188 screens. (If you don’t follow these numbers regularly—and why should you?—that’s pretty bad.)
It’s hardly surprising given that distributor FilmDistrict doesn’t seem to believe that it’s necessary to do anything to publicize its films. But in this case it’s a shame, because it’s not a bad movie, as long as you don’t mind your action movies mixed with twisty plots and noir-ish characters. I don’t have room to do justice to the story, which involves two people out for revenge against a drug gang, but its convoluted enough to hold your attention. It was directed by Niels Arden Oplev, making his Hollywood debut after international success with the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo trilogy (the Swedish originals, not the remake) and riding on a crest of interest in Nordic noir. He does stylish work and gets a first-rate performance from Tattoo star Noomi Rapace. And if the story’s non-PC gun battles and implausible plot points (not another killer who sends notes to his victims bearing opaque clues) try your patience, there are compensatory pleasures from a cast that includes Terrence Howard, F. Murray Abraham, and Armand Assante. Best of all is Isabelle Huppert, whose appearance in this kind of thing is even more surprising than Werner Herzog’s recent role in Jack Reacher.
Issue Navigation> Issue Index > v12n11 (Week of Thursday, March 14) > Film Reviews > The Incredible Burt Wonderstone, Dead Man Down
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