Burt Wonderstone • The Call
March 21, 2013
The Incredible Burt Wonderstone (* ½) PG-13
There is a sense of cruel irony at play during the final act of the supposed comedy, The Incredible Burt Wonderstone. It involves the two magicians at the center of film proposing to put an entire audience to sleep as part of one of their tricks. It’s a trick that, interestingly enough, would probably be a welcome respite for most members of the audience who had to sit through the previous eighty-odd minutes of stale jokes and celebrated actors parading around in bad toupees that make up this film. Not since this past January’s release Gangster Squad has a bad film been so shockingly and inexplicably crammed with award caliber actors given mostly nothing of interest to do. Someone must have owed someone favors, which is also evidenced by the talent behind the camera, Don Scardino—a former B-movie actor and star of such fondly remembered 1970s/80s ‘classics’ as He Knows You’re Alone and Squirm—whose last directorial credit was something called Advice From a Caterpillar in 1999. He directs this film with all of the panache found in a bottom of the barrel, ABC movie of the week from the early 1970s. Jokes fall flat at every turn and every plot point is well telegraphed in advance. Even worse, the film even has a flat look and much evidence of hasty, last minute studio imposed reedits. It’s just a bad endeavor all around.
I kept thinking throughout the entire thing that if this film had been about dueling magicians, things might have been different. Instead the plot mechanics revolve around the title character, Burt Wonderstone (Steve Carell) and his childhood pal, Anton Marvelton (Steve Buschemi), who manage to concoct a wildly successful Vegas magic show at Bally’s after putting together a magic show during their formative years.
Steve Buschemi & Steve Carell in ‘Burt’
After ten years of doing their thing and facing competition from go-for-broke, street magician Steve Gray (Jim Carrey, overacting as usual in what is basically an extended cameo), the duo have a public falling out and break up the act. The rest of the film is one of those predictable affairs where Wonderstone has to learn that you ‘don’t know whatcha got till it’s gone,’ eventually finding himself through both a blooming romance with his former assistant (Olivia Wilde), who now works for Grey, and by connecting with his childhood idol (Alan Arkin), a once famous magician who now resides in a rest home. It’s one of those films that wants to be funny but also wants to teach us a lesson about the value of realizing what’s really important in life. The problem is that the jokes don’t work and the moralizing feels too heavy handed. It doesn’t work on either front.
Steve Carell has publicly stated that he left The Office to concentrate on making, not just movies, but movies that count. His last two films, Seeking a Friend For the End of the World and Hope Springs, were something he could wear with pride. If The Incredible Burt Wonderstone is any indication of where he’s headed, the call of television might be looming in his fear future.
The Call (**) R
It’s not my normal policy to comment on the physical appearance of actors in a film but when a film doesn’t keep you engaged it becomes easy to get fixated on the physical attributes of the performer, whether one wants to or not. The Call is that sort of film. The film is so filled with stock, clichéd characters and plot points that can easily be telegraphed way in advance of their unspooling, that I found myself fixated on lead actress Halle Berry’s hairstyle in the film. The film’s stylists have given her a ‘do’ that obviously is meant to de-glamorize the actress and make her more relatable in her role as a 911 operator attempting to rescue a kidnapped girl (Abigail Breslin). Yet, the hairdo becomes so distracting—it literally looks as if a poodle has been placed directly on the actress’ head—that when the film hits the occasional trouble spot you have only Halle Berry’s hair to grab your attention. If the film were not such a cookie-cutter product, reeking of filmmaking by committee, perhaps I wouldn’t have spent as much time looking at those Halle Berry locks. As it stands, however, there were too many times when there was simply nothing better to do.
Berry’s character in the film is Jordan Turner. The film sets us up by having her character, the aforementioned Los Angeles 911 operator at the center of the film, blunder in rescuing a caller who has been kidnapped. This comes, of course, after we are introduced to the stock characters that populate her seemingly bland world, which not only include her dull co-workers who serve as a backdrop, but also a boyfriend (Morris Chestnut) who conveniently works on the police force.
Halle Berry in The Call
The boyfriend’s connections to the police force will come in handy later in the picture when Turner receives another call from another kidnapped teen (Breslin), dumped in the trunk of a car by a deranged sicko. Sopranos actor Michael Imperioli shows up for about five minutes of screen time in an effort to stop the kidnapper (Michael Eklund) but his screen time is so brief one wonders why he signed on.
It’s at this point that the film takes a disastrous left turn and asks us to accept Berry’s character as an amateur sleuth who takes the law into her own hands, intent on rescuing the girl when all else has failed.
The Call starts out somewhat promisingly. In its early scenes as a police procedural it actually works to a certain degree in spite of the cardboard characters that populate the film. Director Brad Anderson (The Machinist),subbing for original director Joel Schumacher, who dropped out of the project, throws in some interesting, stylistic touches from time to time. Still, once the film reaches its final, tonally inconsistent act, it’s hard to take anything seriously. Not even Halle Berry’s hairstyle.
These movies are playing at the Carmike Theater in Hickory and area theaters.
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