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Like any mediocre comedy, there are some gags that just work too well to be written off. Carell and Buscemi throw themselves into their characters' ridiculous, hammy onstage patter and variety-show costumery. (After he splits from Marvelton, Wonderstone tries to do the two-man act on his own.) Olivia Wilde earns a few early chuckles as Jane, a magician's assistant who aspires to have her own act. An out-of-nowhere sex scene has the best gag in the whole movie, even if it throws off the pace of the narrative.
That's the rub of The Incredible Burt Wonderstone: Very rarely is the movie funny, charming and sensible at the same time. Even while some jokes draw out a subdued giggle, director Don Scardino never quite manages to hit the absurd tone he's reaching for. The comedy is sensationalist more than anything else. Gray's show is tastelessly called "Brain Rapist" -- yes, that's the entire gag -- while several of the movie's jokes are made at the expense of its weakest and most vulnerable characters. The result is a comedy that isn't quite as funny as it should be, stocked with actors we know to be much funnier than they are here.
Which brings us back to Carell. He comes close to carrying this comedy through its rough patches, but in the end, he can't quite manage the feat. Burt Wonderstone is a pampered, out-of-touch jerk. He should be a clueless fool. There's a subtle difference between the two, and Carell has magnificently tiptoed along the edge of both for years. That he can't do it here, again, is a disappointment.
Maybe they should've called it The Not-Quite-Credible Burt Wonderstone.