Steve Carell plays the titular hero, a legend in Vegas for the show he puts on with lifelong best friend Anton Marvelton (Steve Buscemi). The duo fall on hard times with the arrival of rival street performer Steve Gray (Jim Carrey), whose own brand of body torture magic makes the duo’s more traditional show seem dated. In the manner of most Will Ferrell comedies of the last ten years the protagonist is a talented yet arrogant hero who has become disconnected from the world he once loved. Just as it has been done with newsreaders, Nascar drivers, and figure skaters, now Carell attempts to mine even more comedy gold from the familiar format with flamboyant illusionists.
Unoriginal premises are not necessarily a death sentence in comedies provided the audience is amused, and to its credit Burt Wonderstone just about pulls it off. Not blessed with out and out belly laughs there is a consistent chuckle rate that runs almost throughout, with a look into Marvelton’s post-magic career as a humanitarian a particular highlight. These mild amusements aside the little good faith the film manages to obtain goes up in a puff of smoke thanks to a conclusion that is lazy, unspectacular and beyond even the slim realms of plausibility established onscreen. It ends with the feeling of the tablecloth being pulled out from underneath you and exposes Burt Wonderstone as an act with nothing up its sleeve.