A capable cast and just enough humour means this predictable comedy isn’t spellbinding but won’t leave you asking for your money back. Conjuring comedy The Incredible Burt Wonderstone might have a plot that’s reminiscent of Mitchell & Webb flop Magicians but it’s far closer to Blades of Glory. Or any other sports movie following the fame-failure-redemption trope.
Bullied as a child – in an hilariously pathetic scene that shows just how hollow Justin Bieber’s "worst birthday" tweet was - Burt (Carell) finds friendship and later fame as a Vegas magic act, with the help of childhood buddy and stage partner Anton (Buscemi). But with Burt’s ego reaching Copperfield-level narcissism and the popularity of street magician Steve Gray (Carrey) on the rise, the partnership reaches breaking point. Can Burt rediscover what really made him fall in love with magic and save the onstage and offstage team?
Well, what do you think? There's no sleight-of-hand here and nearly every beat of this Warner Brothers release is easier to spot than a hanging onstage wire. Fortunately, the cast, pacing and script combine to keep you in your seat, while a sparingly used Carrey provokes the biggest laughs, with a manic and physical performance. In what's probably his most outlandish comedic turn since Bruce Almighty, Carrey revels in Gray's obvious ridiculousness, from his Criss Angel-esque hair and beard, to his sensitively-named TV show, Brain Rapist, and his laughable stunts, such as sleeping on hot coals and holding in his urine for 12 days.
The rest of the cast aren't given as much meat, and while Carell's timing is impeccable and he nails the misguided pomposity of magicians, we're none the wiser as to why Burt became such a jerk, making it hard to even care about his fate (though his mullet is magnificent). It's great to see Buscemi in a comedy role that isn't a Happy Madison production but his effeminate, browbeaten partner is underserved by the script, while Olivia Wilde gets a pleasingly large amount of lines for an actress in a studio comedy of this ilk - but still not enough for her obvious wit.
Arkin, however, is predictably fantastic and hammy as ageing illusionist Rance Holloway - with tricks like 'The Skateboarding Ghost' and 'The Amazing Cordless Telephone' - and his arrival makes the third act a breezy, if unsurprising joy. The by-the-numbers narrative means the film's a comfortable exercise for former 30 Rock director Don Scardino, with montages, wraps and dissolves, as well as some hints to his sitcom background thanks to some great background gags, and he keeps the pace commendably light-footed.
Just like Blades of Glory, the climax relies on our heroes pulling off the impossible. But while the denouement can't come close to the magic of a Derren Brown stunt or the audacity of David Copperfield claiming to have make the Statue of Liberty disappear, it's amiable, energetic and performed with enough enthusiasm to deserve a polite round of applause.