Jay Mohr is funny, a sidetracked street magician with a sub-par career as Rick the Implausible. His performance reigns in Burt Wonderstone; he is in the movie for five minutes, and its highlight. This is going to sting.
Led by comedic titans in Steve Carrell, Jim Carrey, and Steve Buscemi (?), Wonderstone is a film of disconnects, jarringly swapping focus to detail mishaps of a tired Burt (Carrell), and shock artist Steve the Gray (Carrey).
Burt’s act, along with the “magical friendship” of Buscemi’s Anton, is decades old, routine disappearing acts on a vivid, light driven Las Vega stage. Street side, Steve the Gray caters to a younger, hipper reality TV audience, slicing himself open to find hidden playing cards, or sleeping through the night on hot coals. Suddenly, thoughts of a flamboyant, bedazzled magician has been run over by the ripped t-shirt of this fetishistic magic champion.
Start the engines of emotions as Burt Wonderstone’s promising beginnings fall into a rut of semi-drama, Wonderstone out of cash and Anton sidelined with two broken ankles, maybe a rib after a stunt gone wrong. Wacky hijinks are replaced by dopey personal reflection, the rich no longer rich and committed to an old folks home populated by aged entertainers.
Expectations come into play, and how can they not? Carrell and Carrey in an furious showdown of dazzling one-upmanship is instantly gratifying conceptually, except Wonderstone barely touches that element. Warring sides within battle in a realm of visual deception, albeit separately. Characterization takes sides, splitting competition into broken, disjointed acts. None flow into another, a sort of non-montage meant to pass time and remind audiences that yes, Jim Carrey is still in this film.
Potential for wackiness or off-the-wall ideas come tumbling around this tepidly minded comedic fall, Wonderstone unwilling to push for gusto. It takes named stars, known for shouting, screaming, and fits of rage, turning them into menial mumblers who barely speak above a whisper. What seems like genuinely endearing casting is insipid for claustrophobic direction. Everyone is locked into flattened versions of themselves, mixed with punctuated highs that allow breathable air into personalities all too rarely.
Burt Wonderstone took four writers to create, an admirable idea and undoubtedly built for its star attractions. It becomes a mystery as to why then antics are so blasé, and dialogue firmly focused on pulling slightly off-kilter heart strings rather than blowing up with unrestricted idiocy.
Warner delivers on an AVC encode for DoBlu’s benefit, a staggeringly pitiful dose of compression that makes this new release blush for its inadequacy. But, let’s be nice. Burt Wonderstone does things right. Impressive close-ups can squeeze out doses of facial definition. Sequined stage suits are resolved, and brightly lit exteriors pop from the screen.
Due credit is passed out for lush black levels, dense, dark, and appealing without a loss of shadow detail. Nighttime interiors hold to exceptional dimensions, without any unsightly dimming into gray. Black stays black.
Everything else? Yee-ouch. Bitrates stay low, enough to cause concern regarding the grain structure. In motion, Wonderstone is assaulted by noisy, smearing grain, swarming over faces. Even sitting still, the codec cannot find a foothold, taking the above referenced facial detail and doing its damnedest to run over it like a truck. Flashbacks to the noise-induced, and maybe somewhat ironically Steve Carrell starring, Crazy Stupid Love are in tow. Similarities are everywhere within that Warner release too.
There is better performance here. Color rises this magic farce above some of its issues. Primaries are celebrated instead of subdued, and the orange zing to flesh tones is negligible. Some filtering regarding Olivia Wilde is so passe in the face of compression, it is better to leave it alone. Film looks fantastic on Blu-ray, but it has to be respected. This is merely sloppy.
Despite sold out auditoriums, Wonderstone’s sound stage is anemic. Cheering crowds seep into the rears with limited zest, instead becoming front-loaded elements. No precision is evident within tricks or dialogue or action. Center channel ahoy. Music wraps in the soundfield with better punch, and reaches into the subwoofer for added heft.
A brief building implosion is the sole action-esque moment, performed in the distance with a rumble in the LFE. Hooray for adequacy. This DTS-HD clunker is as restrained as its actors.
Steve Gray Uncut ushers in a short selection of extras, this eight minute piece the full faux reality show Jim Carrey’s character is shooting in the film. Making Movie Magic, also eight minutes, features David Copperfield discussing his involvement. A host of deleted/alternate scenes ask for 26-minutes of your time, and a brief four minute gag reel carries a few stand outs.
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