Carell’s career trajectory is veering in a particularly odd trajectory. With
nationwide exposure and critical adoration for his work on NBC’s The Office, the comic actor often worked
minor roles, stealing scenes from the likes of Jim Carrey (Bruce Almighty) and Will Ferrell (Anchorman). Fulfilling his promise as a lead actor in Judd Apatow’s
The 40 Year Old Virgin, Carell‘s
stock seemed to be on a perpetual high. From an indie turn in Little Miss Sunshine to realizing the
lead character in the incredibly successful Despicable
Me, bumps in the road were to be expected. A film and performance in Dinner for Schmucks is best left
unmentioned. His showing in last year’s lambasted Seeking a Friend for the End of the World remains one of my
favorite performances from the actor. And with upcoming collaborations with
Bennett Miller (Moneyball) and Nat
Faxon and Jim Rash (writers of The Descendants), it’s hard to believe why the actor would participate in a
project as flawed and drearily typical as The
Incredible Burt Wonderstone.
That very same question can be applied to a majority of the actors on-screen, from Steve Buscemi to Jim Carrey. Perhaps it’s the idea that The Incredible Burt Wonderstone represents - the concept of delving into the wild eccentricities of illusion and magic. The actors and even some of the ideas operating in the film are both genuinely funny and engrossing, from the gross opulence found in Carell’s title character to Carrey’s David Blaine inspired street magician. But what links and frames these humorous ideas together is a narrative of formulaic comedic touchstones. Nothing about the narrative course or even drive of the picture ever expands beyond the typical. Unlike the wildly unkempt nature of Adam McKay’s films (Anchorman, The Other Guys). director Don Scardino instills very little personality into his work. While his actors are attempting to elevate the material far beyond its worth, Scardino’s trying aesthetics undercuts many of his performers’ advances.
Wonderstone represents a point in Carell’s career where things need gauging. Will Ferrell has largely made a career operating under this sort of material (with no end in sight following the announcement of Anchorman 2). It’s a generally agreed upon and somewhat inoffensive pit stop in a bankable comic actors’ career that produces forgettable films of moderate enjoyment. Wonderstone suffices under this guise, though the sense that this was all a bit of a wasted effort is felt most palpable when knowing that Carell has done so much better than this.