I’d like to preface this by saying that I went into this movie with incredibly low expectations. I think that might be why I had an OK time watching it. But that’s the problem really, is that it’s never more than just an OK time.
The structural problem here is that when it comes to the plot there’s nothing here you haven’t seen before, and when it comes to the magic it’s nowhere near as inventive as I imagine it could have been.
What do I mean? Well have you seen that movie where the main character as a kid was bullied and then found a way (in this case magic) to overcome his awkwardness and then grows up into a total douchebag, then loses everything and has to learn how to be a nice guy again to regain everything and be better off than before? Also, the only girl who has ever rejected him and endures YEARS of his being a total ass and then starts to forgive him at the first sign of him not being such a dick? Also also, he has a falling out with his best friend and partner over his inability to change but eventually reconciles once he’s learned to be a good person again while they’ve spent time apart?
I could go on, but I don’t have to, literally every character arc in this movie is something you’ve seen before and none of it is particularly well executed, which is a shame when you consider the list of amazing actors they’ve assembled.
Steve Carell is as good as he’s ever been at selling his deadpan reactions to the ridiculous but his character is all over the map, both a scheming evil genius asshole and an idiot AND just a normal nice guy, and the film can’t seem to decide which it wants him to start out as or grow into.
Steve BUscemi is the best friend and the film just wastes him. He’s basically Donny from _The Big Lebowski_ again, the character everyone just abuses without thinking.
Olivia Wilde is the girl, and she’s great. By far the most engaging and relatable but her story arc is also by far the most predictable and in the end she’s really just around to let us know that Steve Carell’s character arc is over. Which she does by sleeping with him. I would have warned you thats a spoiler but you’ve seen this movie before so it isn’t.
Alan Arkin also shines, as per usual, as the aging magician who originally inspired the main character and then also coincidentally shows up to help reignite his passion. Again, he’s great, but it’s just so damn predictable.
Jim Carry is the bad guy, a Criss Angel type douchebag with hints of David Blaine’s endurance tests and self harm thrown in. I suppose it’s something that I really did hate his character, that’s the point of an antagonist after all, but I also can’t remember laughing at much of what he did. One gag in the middle and his big final trick and that’s really it.
And then there’s the magic itself which you’d think they’d use to great comic effect but they just…. don’t. They try a few times but it always seems so forced and obvious that it falls flat and the one time they really go behind the scenes of a trick it’s the intricacies of the big comeback trick and it’s during the credits and while it was genuinely funny it also completely undercuts the ending.
I feel like this is a movie that might have been hampered by it’s rating. If it had been R rated they might have been able to actually explain the dichotomy of smart and stupid that Burt Wonderstone is with something like alcoholism and had it make sense, they might also have been able to go behind the scenes and show some of the nitty gritty of the business, but none of that happens.
Instead we’re left with a kinda funny movie instead of the hilarious romp that it could have been.