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ON FAITH & MEDIA View Comments

The Incredible Burt Wonderstone

By
Joseph McAleer
Source: Catholic News Service


Alan Arkin, Jim Carrey, Steve Carell, Michael Bully and Jay Mohr star in a scene from the movie "The Incredible Burt Wonderstone."
By turns repellent and charming, "The Incredible Burt Wonderstone" (Warner Bros.) comically charts the rise and fall of dueling magicians on the famed Las Vegas Strip.

On the surface, the film, directed by television veteran Don Scardino ("30 Rock"), seeks its laughs the conventional Hollywood way, via sexual innuendo or gross-out sight gags. Regrettably, such sleaze—together with a morally flawed conclusion—obscures interesting commentaries on the wickedness of narcissism and a fallen idol's potential path to redemption.

For years, the hottest ticket in Sin City has been "A Magical Friendship," headlined by the superstar—and colorfully named—magicians Burt Wonderstone (Steve Carell) and Anton Marvelton (Steve Buscemi). The two have been pals since elementary school, when a shared love for sleight-of-hand built confidence and provided armor against bullies.

"Everyone loves a magician," intoned the great illusionist Rance Holloway (Alan Arkin) in his how-to videotape watched by the wide-eyed boys. "And they will all love you, too."

Audiences did, but lately changing tastes and increased competition have dimmed the spotlight and strained the friendship. Burt, channeling Siegfried and Roy with his flowing blond locks, spray tan and sequined jumpsuit, has become an obnoxious diva who beds lady volunteers from the audience. He's bored with the act and, especially, with Anton, who has never wavered in his self-discipline and loyalty.

When a new stunt fails in spectacular fashion, the duo parts ways, and Burt falls on hard times, forced to work as an entertainer in an old folks' home.

Meanwhile, a new star is rising in the person of outrageous street performer Steve Gray (Jim Carrey), who goes by the title "The Brain Rapist." Steve's form of magic involves squeamish physical challenges, such as using his head to pound nails into wood or holding his urine for days on end.

To Steve, magicians such as Burt and Anton are old school and must be destroyed. "It's natural for a dying leaf to be frightened of this autumn wind," he tells Burt.

To make matters worse, Burt and Anton's former assistant, the lovely Jane (Olivia Wilde), has become Steve's aide. But Jane, a magician herself, has a soft spot for the down-and-out Burt, and supports efforts to turn his life around.

"The Incredible Burt Wonderstone" takes a decisive wrong turn at its climax—when a big comeback stunt depends more on narcotics than on magic. Coming on top of all the dubious humor on display, this development ramps up the problematic content of the picture—and will leave viewers questioning whether Burt's values have really changed after all.

The film contains a benign view of drug use and contraception, much crude humor, sexual innuendo and occasional profane and rough language. The Catholic News Service classification is L—limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13—parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.

*****
Joseph McAleer is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.



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Monica: The circumstances of St. Monica’s life could have made her a nagging wife, a bitter daughter-in-law and a despairing parent, yet she did not give way to any of these temptations. Although she was a Christian, her parents gave her in marriage to a pagan, Patricius, who lived in her hometown of Tagaste in North Africa. Patricius had some redeeming features, but he had a violent temper and was licentious. Monica also had to bear with a cantankerous mother-in-law who lived in her home. Patricius criticized his wife because of her charity and piety, but always respected her. Monica’s prayers and example finally won her husband and mother-in-law to Christianity. Her husband died in 371, one year after his baptism. 
<p>Monica had at least three children who survived infancy. The oldest, Augustine (August 28) , is the most famous. At the time of his father’s death, Augustine was 17 and a rhetoric student in Carthage. Monica was distressed to learn that her son had accepted the Manichean heresy (all flesh is evil)  and was living an immoral life. For a while, she refused to let him eat or sleep in her house. Then one night she had a vision that assured her Augustine would return to the faith. From that time on, she stayed close to her son, praying and fasting for him. In fact, she often stayed much closer than Augustine wanted. </p><p>When he was 29, Augustine decided to go to Rome to teach rhetoric. Monica was determined to go along. One night he told his mother that he was going to the dock to say goodbye to a friend. Instead, he set sail for Rome. Monica was heartbroken when she learned of Augustine’s trick, but she still followed him. She arrived in Rome only to find that he had left for Milan. Although travel was difficult, Monica pursued him to Milan. </p><p>In Milan, Augustine came under the influence of the bishop, St. Ambrose, who also became Monica’s spiritual director. She accepted his advice in everything and had the humility to give up some practices that had become second nature to her (see Quote, below). Monica became a leader of the devout women in Milan as she had been in Tagaste. </p><p>She continued her prayers for Augustine during his years of instruction. At Easter, 387, St. Ambrose baptized Augustine and several of his friends. Soon after, his party left for Africa. Although no one else was aware of it, Monica knew her life was near the end. She told Augustine, “Son, nothing in this world now affords me delight. I do not know what there is now left for me to do or why I am still here, all my hopes in this world being now fulfilled.” She became ill shortly after and suffered severely for nine days before her death. </p><p>Almost all we know about St. Monica is in the writings of St. Augustine, especially his <i>Confessions</i>.</p> American Catholic Blog Trust always and a great deal in divine providence; never, never must you let yourselves be discouraged, despite contrary winds. I say it again: trust in God and Mary Immaculate; be faithful and forge ahead! <br />-Paulina do Coração Agonizante de Jesus

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