In 1982, young Burt Wonderstone doesn't have much magic in his life.
Bullies chase him home from school and taunt, "Nobody likes you. Nobody will ever like you." His mother has to work a double shift on his birthday so she leaves him a cake ... mix, with instructions on how to bake it.
But she also buys him a present that will transform his life: a Rance Holloway magic kit, complete with a videotape in which the expert promises everyone loves a magician "and if you follow my instructions, they'll love you, too."
2.5 stars = Average
Steve Carell, Steve Buscemi, Jim Carrey.
PG-13 for sexual content, dangerous stunts, a drug-related incident and language.
Magic brings Burt a nerdy friend and future professional partner in classmate Anton, and Holloway's prediction comes true in "The Incredible Burt Wonderstone."
Everyone does love them as adults (Steve Carell as Burt, Steve Buscemi as Anton) on the Vegas Strip where they pack a theater at Bally's with ardent admirers until their tricks and looks -- bedazzled velvet outfits, highlighted manes of hair -- get tired and tiresome.
Their old-school act loses fans and favor to street performer Steve Gray (Jim Carrey), a cable TV star with long, two-tone hair who specializes in reckless stunts more than true magic. When Burt and Anton, who grow to loathe each other, try to pull off a David Blaine-style feat of endurance, it backfires.
"The Incredible Burt Wonderstone" charts what happens in this comedy that, like its leading magicians, is far from edgy. Much of it plays like a TV show at times, with Mr. Carrey's masochistic magician -- going for the record of not blinking or urinating, or doing something insanely dangerous -- a throwback to "In Living Color."
In addition to Mr. Carell, Mr. Buscemi and Mr. Carrey, the cast includes Olivia Wilde as Burt and Anton's reluctant assistant, James Gandolfini as a casino mogul whose patience wears thin as his magicians' act does, and Alan Arkin as the fabled Rance Holloway.
Director Don Scardino, who spent five seasons as a producer-director on "30 Rock," and "Horrible Bosses" writers Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley (Sam from "Freaks and Geeks" who has a cameo as a paramedic) have a television rhythm to their work.
Some of the jokes play that way, too, as when a character "disappears" by slipping under a bed, a limber move that would seem almost physically impossible. Burt's habit of calling his assistants "Nicole," no matter their names, is straight out of "The Devil Wears Prada," and Ms. Wilde makes for an unlikely would-be magician who had only imaginary friends as a girl.
Having said all of that, "The Incredible Burt Wonderstone" is cheesily enjoyable and sporadically funny, thanks to familiar acts (big cats, comedy, peevish partners, a superstar magician) or faces.
The story traces Burt from outcast tween to egotistical success and ladies man -- fake tan, mascara and velvet suits cut into a deep V, the better to show off his waxed chest and gold medallions -- to has-been in economical fashion.
The wigs (oh, the wigs!) and costumes and magic tricks only take you so far, though, and the movie stages a maneuver at the end but then shows us exactly how it was done, after providing the basics. It might have been far cooler to preserve some of the mystery and send the audience out asking, "Exactly how did they do that?"