This is the first comedy in a while that I could watch without cringing at the extreme off-color jokes or pointless nudity or horrible language or some offensive combination of all of the above.
“Burt Wonderstone” is funny while staying well within its PG-13 rating. The sexual innuendos are kept at the comfortable level of a Doris Day film. And it is still funny and still worth watching — imagine that.
This is very much a performer’s movie. The story line is about two Las Vegas stage magicians — Steve Carell and Steve Buscemi — that have a stale act and are about to be dethroned from their lucrative gig. We have an outstanding cast including two leading film comedians, Steve Carell, who has been making successful films like a little assembly line and the once-great Jim Carrey. Carrey plays a rival “shock” magician. Carrey plays down his distinctive comic riffs, but he starts at such a high level that there is still plenty of his old-time style of manic insanity to please his fans.
Carell is his usual self.
Steve Buscemi is not known for his comic talents, but he has them. He and James Gandolfini are both coming off long runs on cable TV where each played loving family men who are also murderous gangsters.
Buscemi’s gangster character is a bootlegger in Atlantic City in the heyday of Prohibition. Gandolfini played the lead role in the long running “Sopranos.” Gandolfini has a small role as the head of the casino where Carell and Buscemi work their magic on crowds of Vegas gamblers. Also seen are Alan Arkin as a geriatric, once great magician and the startlingly beautiful Olivia Wilde. Wilde has been inserted into the film in a role that has been labeled superfluous by some critics. Those eyes superfluous? What twaddle.
First time director Don Scardino does a professional job, i.e. he doesn’t get in the way of his much more famous and experienced actors. We don’t even know, as audience members, that he is there.
The screenplay was written by up-and-comer John Francis Daley who also has a cameo role as an ambulance driver. Some will recognize Daley as Dr. Sweet on the long running “Bones” TV show. Daley is young and can do and has done just about everything there is to do in Hollywood. He has directed two films and wrote the entertaining “Horrible Bosses.”
This funny film about friendship, failure and redemption has not found the audience that it deserves. The modest $30 million project achieved a dismal $10 million over the opening weekend. It runs one hour and 43 minutes. I think it deserves a strong three and a half saw blades. If we don’t support comedies with a PG-13 rating the producers, curse their black hearts, will give us nothing but “Hangover Part III” to make us laugh. And we will deserve it.