There are a lot of big stars in the comedy The Incredible Burt Wonderstone. What's missing are a lot of big laughs.
Well, there are about four -- one right at the very end -- and this is a movie that clocks in at 100 minutes, so that's quite a bit of downtime between guffaws to contemplate just why so many people who should know better are involved in this.
Steve Carell is the title character, a Las Vegas magician who -- along with his best friend, Anton Marvelton (Steve Buscemi) -- has a stage act that used to be popular but now seems to appeal only to those seeking refuge from the Nevada heat. This does not make casino owner Doug Munny (James Gandolfini) a happy man.
Meanwhile, Steve Grey (Jim Carrey) is wowing crowds with his new-generation human-endurance magic; think David Blaine minus 50 IQ points. Doug wants some of that action, but Wonderstone, whose ego is as vast as a Vegas showroom, doesn't want to change.
Finally, Wonderstone and Marvelton capitulate, and that's how they end up in that big box high above the street that we've seen in all the trailers.
There is a story, and no doubt lots of humor, to be mined from the generational battle of magic styles. But The Incredible Burt Wonderstone, with its tired, labored gags and undercooked love story between Carell and an assistant who wants to be a magician (Olivia Wilde), isn't that story.
Director Don Scardino comes out of episodic television (2 Broke Girls, Royal Pains, 30 Rock), and it shows in his flat approach. The movie is a succession of scenes in search of a laugh track.
There are moments when Carrey transcends these barriers through sheer energy and force of will. The increasingly bizarre feats of denial and danger -- holding his urine, sleeping on hot coals -- are given a jolt of electricity by his mere presence.
Then there's that final, extended sight gag, which is good enough to almost make up for everything that comes before it. Still, it would be better if The Incredible Burt Wonderstone just disappeared.