Pixel Tracker

Tuesday, January 22 , 2019, 3:29 pm | Fair 62º


Cinema in Focus: ‘The Incredible Burt Wonderstone’

Wealth and fame are powerful seductions over the life of love

2 Stars — Entertaining

Sometimes comedies carry a message, sometimes they are just entertaining and fun, and sometimes they wander into useless drama. The Incredible Burt Wonderstone walks through all of these stages, ending with some very funny moments.

In between, though, there are some sleeper moments, and some of the material is not suitable for children. Nevertheless, this is a story that portrays how easily success can seduce one and how we often have to learn the hard way what is most important in our lives.

Burt (Mason Cook as a child) grew up being bullied by the neighborhood boys and longed to fit in. To his delight, he receives a special birthday present from his mother in the form of an amazing magician’s kit marketed by the grand magician Rance Holloway (Alan Arkin). When Burt tries out his new magic tricks on a buddy friend, Anton (Luke Vanek as a child), he, too, falls in love with magic. From this lowly beginning, a lifelong friendship developed between Burt and Anton, an act emerges and the rest is showbiz history.

Twenty years later, Burt Wonderstone (Steve Carell) and Anton Marvelton (Steve Buscemi) have become the biggest razzle-dazzle show on the Las Vegas strip. With fame comes temptation and a false sense of self-worth. It becomes too easy and seductive to believe the flattery that others bestow on you, and along with it comes the temptation to use people and love things instead of the other way around.

The challenge that crashes into Burt and Anton’s lives comes in the form of “the next big act” to hit the strip — Steve Gray’s (Jim Carrey) shock-jock magic tricks that both stun the audience with revulsion and amaze them with startling reality-TV-effects such as self-mutilation. Soon, fickle audiences want something new and brutal, causing Burt and Anton’s traditional card tricks and disappearing tigers to have lost their magic.

With the loss of their fan base, Las Vegas tosses them aside and seeks the next big draw to their casinos. It takes a while for Burt to realize how the mighty hath fallen, but eventually reality must be faced, and the collateral damage comes in the both the loss of friendship between Burt and Anton and the collapse of the lifestyle their fame allowed them to enjoy.

After wandering in the wilderness for a few years, Burt and Anton are given the opportunity to compete against Steve Gray for a new act at Doug Munny’s (James Gandolfini) newest grand hotel in Las Vegas. In order to compete, though, Burt and Anton have to realize how important their friendship is to each other, superseding the value of their act.

With their priorities now back in order, Burt and Anton decide, with the encouragement of their now aging mentor Rance Holloway, whom Burt has befriended in an old-entertainer’s home, to attempt the biggest trick ever performed on the stage — causing the audience to disappear and then reappear before their eyes. What transpires is a comedic triumph.

Burt and Anton’s experience portrays the American dream of fame and fortune. It also portrays the false illusions that such a life offers, and how easily we can lose the things that are of most value to us — our friends and family. In the end, it is this lesson that is neither funny nor entertaining, but it gives us hope that through life’s lessons we can come to a much clearer understanding of what is important in life.


» The illusion of wealth and fame is a pervasive temptation to many of us. How have you kept your life grounded in reality?

» Have you ever sacrificed a friendship in order to get ahead in your professional or business life? What happened inwardly when you made such a choice, and how did you live with it or correct it?

» Why do you think the concept of magic is so captivating?

— Cinema in Focus is a social and spiritual movie commentary. Hal Conklin is a former mayor of Santa Barbara and Denny Wayman is pastor of Free Methodist Church, 1435 Cliff Drive. For more reviews, visit www.cinemainfocus.com, or follow them on Twitter: @CinemaInFocus. The opinions expressed are their own.

Support Noozhawk Today

You are an important ally in our mission to deliver clear, objective, high-quality professional news reporting for Santa Barbara, Goleta and the rest of Santa Barbara County. Join the Hawks Club today to help keep Noozhawk soaring.

We offer four membership levels: $5 a month, $10 a month, $25 a month or $1 a week. Payments can be made using a credit card, Apple Pay or Google Pay, or click here for information on recurring credit-card payments and a mailing address for checks.

Thank you for your vital support.

Become a Noozhawk Supporter

First name
Last name
Select your monthly membership
Or choose an annual membership

Payment Information

Membership Subscription

You are enrolling in . Thank you for joining the Hawks Club.

Payment Method

Pay by Credit Card:

Mastercard, Visa, American Express, Discover
One click only, please!

Pay with Apple Pay or Google Pay:

Noozhawk partners with Stripe to provide secure invoicing and payments processing.
You may cancel your membership at any time by sending an email to .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

  • Ask
  • Vote
  • Investigate
  • Answer

Noozhawk Asks: What’s Your Question?

Welcome to Noozhawk Asks, a new feature in which you ask the questions, you help decide what Noozhawk investigates, and you work with us to find the answers.

Here’s how it works: You share your questions with us in the nearby box. In some cases, we may work with you to find the answers. In others, we may ask you to vote on your top choices to help us narrow the scope. And we’ll be regularly asking you for your feedback on a specific issue or topic.

We also expect to work together with the reader who asked the winning questions to find the answer together. Noozhawk’s objective is to come at questions from a place of curiosity and openness, and we believe a transparent collaboration is the key to achieve it.

The results of our investigation will be published here in this Noozhawk Asks section. Once or twice a month, we plan to do a review of what was asked and answered.

Thanks for asking!

Click Here to Get Started >

Reader Comments

Noozhawk is no longer accepting reader comments on our articles. Click here for the announcement. Readers are instead invited to submit letters to the editor by emailing them to [email protected]. Please provide your full name and community, as well as contact information for verification purposes only.