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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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Jacopone da Todi: Jacomo, or James, was born a noble member of the Benedetti family in the northern Italian city of Todi. He became a successful lawyer and married a pious, generous lady named Vanna. 
<p>His young wife took it upon herself to do penance for the worldly excesses of her husband. One day Vanna, at the insistence of Jacomo, attended a public tournament. She was sitting in the stands with the other noble ladies when the stands collapsed. Vanna was killed. Her shaken husband was even more disturbed when he realized that the penitential girdle she wore was for his sinfulness. On the spot, he vowed to radically change his life. </p><p>He divided his possessions among the poor and entered the Secular Franciscan Order (once known as the Third Order). Often dressed in penitential rags, he was mocked as a fool and called Jacopone, or "Crazy Jim," by his former associates. The name became dear to him. </p><p>After 10 years of such humiliation, Jacopone asked to be a member of the Order of Friars Minor(First Order). Because of his reputation, his request was initially refused. He composed a beautiful poem on the vanities of the world, an act that eventually led to his admission into the Order in 1278. He continued to lead a life of strict penance, declining to be ordained a priest. Meanwhile he was writing popular hymns in the vernacular. </p><p>Jacopone suddenly found himself a leader in a disturbing religious movement among the Franciscans. The Spirituals, as they were called, wanted a return to the strict poverty of Francis. They had on their side two cardinals of the Church and Pope Celestine V. These two cardinals, though, opposed Celestine’s successor, Boniface VIII. At the age of 68, Jacopone was excommunicated and imprisoned. Although he acknowledged his mistake, Jacopone was not absolved and released until Benedict XI became pope five years later. He had accepted his imprisonment as penance. He spent the final three years of his life more spiritual than ever, weeping "because Love is not loved." During this time he wrote the famous Latin hymn, <i>Stabat Mater</i>. </p><p>On Christmas Eve in 1306 Jacopone felt that his end was near. He was in a convent of the Poor Clares with his friend, Blessed John of La Verna. Like Francis, Jacopone welcomed "Sister Death" with one of his favorite songs. It is said that he finished the song and died as the priest intoned the Gloria from the midnight Mass at Christmas. From the time of his death, Brother Jacopone has been venerated as a saint.</p> American Catholic Blog By immersing our lives in the rhythm of the season, charity can flood our souls and fill us with the happiness for which we were created. We awake Christmas morning prepared to celebrate the birth of our Savior not as a memory but as a profound experience of God’s redemptive love.

 
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