LIFE after Dunder Mifflin has been fairly quiet for Steve Carrell.
Since hanging up his paper-selling boots on the hit US TV version of The Office, the former Michael Scott has yet to turn in a truly brilliant comedy.
Maybe he set the bar too high early in his career with Anchorman and the 40 Year Old Virgin, but Carrell is a supremely talented comedic actor in need of a fitting vehicle.
His first attempt at creating a marquee comedy icon is
The Incredible Burt Wonderstone, a farcical comedy about magicians, their rivalries and their inspirations.
As far as setting goes, it is a novel idea, but hardly relevant.
If you’ve seen any movie from a Saturday Night Live alumnus in the last decade, you know the drill; egomaniac lead character starts out horrible, has a few bad things happen to him, maybe a love interest and he reforms.
But the strength of this genre is not its ingenuity, its storytelling or even its overall worth as film.
We watch films like this when we don’t want to tax our brain too much, to take it easy, sit one out.
These films rely on our suspension of disbelief to be at a point where anything seems remotely plausible, as long as you laugh.
Which is handy for Burt Wonderstone because, despite leaving a number of narrative threads unfulfilled, it will attract numbers through the door based on having quite a few very funny set pieces and characters that are written large enough to leave an indelible mark on viewers’ minds.
Much of the film’s charm comes from Carrell’s talented but complacent Wonderstone.
As it becomes clear that Jim Carrey’s upstart Steve Gray, all urine-holding, hot coal sleeping, is winning the battle for ticket sales in Las Vegas, Woderstone and his assistant, Anton Marvelton (played with deadpan excellence by Steve Buscemi) must evolve or die.
As the two bicker, the film soars and one attempt by Burt to do their two-man show solo is an absolute highlight.
But the film can’t stay focused long enough to decide what it wants to be, which is highly frustrating.
John Francis Daley (Dr Sweets in TV’s Bones) and Jonathan M Goldstein wrote 2011’s Horrible Bosses and, much like that effort, Burt Wonderstone is too scatty to really engage.
As the tone shifts, three narratives vie for screentime and none gets the time they deserve.
Alan Arkin, who has made a career out of deadpan comedy, finds himself all at sea, despite his magic legend Rance Holloway being a fantastic comic creation.
In the end, what’s left is a bit of a jumble and it is a shame.
With a bit more care in the script, Wonderstone could stand alongside Ron Burgundy and Chazz Michael Michaels.
As it is, Carrell and Carrey are on fine form, Arkin is excellent and a decent film comes very close to being a very good film.