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Review: Vegas-themed ‘Burt Wonderstone’ is old tricks, new dog

Maybe it’s the Las Vegas connection, but The Incredible Burt Wonderstone seems more entertaining in hindsight than it does while sitting through it. Maybe “endearing” is a more appropriate adjective for the story of an anachronistic Vegas magician’s fall from grace, as the image of narcissistic ’80s throwback Burt Wonderstone (Steve Carell) and his faithful assistant, Anton Marvelton (Steve Buscemi), suspended above the Strip in a transparent “Hot Box” endures longer than memories of long stretches of filler between hit-or-miss gags. By the time Burt meets his idol, Rance Holloway (Alan Arkin, continuing his late-career resurgence), in a retirement home, the feature-length sit-com is running on empty.

It’s less the fault of Don Scardino (The Mindy Project, 2 Broke Girls) than screenwriters Jonathan M. Goldstein and John Francis Daley, whose Horrible Bosses had the same rushed-through-development feel. Burt is saved from a lonely, bully-prone childhood by magic in general, and a Rance Holloway videocassette in particular. “Everybody loves a magician,” says the master illusionist. “And if you follow my instructions, everybody will love you, too.” Everyone does love Burt and Anton when they first hit Vegas, including casino mogul Doug Munny (James Gandolfini). Fast-forward several decades, and the crowds have thinned while Burt clings to Steve Miller’s “Abracadabra” as well as his mullet and outsize ego.

Meanwhile, long-haired illusionist Steve Gray (Jim Carrey as a Criss Angel/Steve O hybrid) is gaining attention for his street-level self-abuse. New assistant Jane tries to stop Burt from slipping into oblivion, but he’ll have to alienate Anton and hit rock bottom before a comeback is possible. Unfortunately, Burt is so thinly drawn, even Carrell has a hard time making him sympathetic. There are no surprises in this formulaic comedy, but a few familiar Vegas faces, including former MMA fighter John Lewis and actor/filmmaker Rusty Meyers, are easy to spot.