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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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Martyrdom of John the Baptist: The drunken oath of a king with a shallow sense of honor, a seductive dance and the hateful heart of a queen combined to bring about the martyrdom of John the Baptist. The greatest of prophets suffered the fate of so many Old Testament prophets before him: rejection and martyrdom. The “voice crying in the desert” did not hesitate to accuse the guilty, did not hesitate to speak the truth. But why? What possesses a man that he would give up his very life? 
<p>This great religious reformer was sent by God to prepare the people for the Messiah. His vocation was one of selfless giving. The only power that he claimed was the Spirit of Yahweh. “I am baptizing you with water, for repentance, but the one who is coming after me is mightier than I. I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire” (Matthew 3:11). Scripture tells us that many people followed John looking to him for hope, perhaps in anticipation of some great messianic power. John never allowed himself the false honor of receiving these people for his own glory. He knew his calling was one of preparation. When the time came, he led his disciples to Jesus: “The next day John was there again with two of his disciples, and as he watched Jesus walk by, he said, ‘Behold, the Lamb of God.’ The two disciples heard what he said and followed Jesus” (John 1:35-37). It is John the Baptist who has pointed the way to Christ. John’s life and death were a giving over of self for God and other people. His simple style of life was one of complete detachment from earthly possessions. His heart was centered on God and the call that he heard from the Spirit of God speaking to his heart. Confident of God’s grace, he had the courage to speak words of condemnation or repentance, of salvation.</p> American Catholic Blog Just as my children become members of my family when I bring them into the world, so too our baptism incorporates us into the family of the Church. This supernatural membership prevents us from being orphans who have to fend for themselves in the spiritual wilderness.

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