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“Austin is like a beautiful woman, and I just want to take advantage of you!”
That was Jim Carrey, speaking from the stage of the majestic Paramount Theater as his dueling-magicians comedy The Incredible Burt Wonderstone kicked off the 2013 South By Southwest Film Festival. Co-stars Steve Carell (who produces) and Olivia Wilde joined Carrey in introducing the film -- director Don Scardino couldn’t attend because he was, according to Carell, “pissing out a kidney stone.” And Wonderstone, as Carrey promised, occasionally had its way with the packed house of film-festival attendees.
Wonderstone is Carell’s show. The sometimes (intentionally) buffoonish comedian tries on Will Ferrell’s oversized ego to play the title character, a bullied child who found escape in magic and parlayed it into a headlining gig at Bally’s on the Las Vegas Strip for both himself and his life-long partner, Anton Marvelton (Steve Buscemi, who is tender, childlike and wonderful). But after decades of churning out the same boring stage show night after night, Burt and Anton feel the heat of competition from an up-and-coming street act (Jim Carrey) who mistakes magic for torturous exercises in pain tolerance. Can Burt see through these current troubles and learn to love magic again?
The glitzy backstage settings of Burt Wonderstone give Scardino enough wiggle room to work in unusual laughs we don’t see in these man-child-growns-up comedies. Carell hardly surprises by showing he can switch gears once again to play an insufferable, impatient lout who earns redemption. Wonderstone, as you might have guessed, hits its comedic strides when Carell and Carrey play absurd games of one-upmanship (with Carrey winning the battle hands down). The duo’s battle involving a puppy at a kid’s birthday party had the Paramount audience howling, while Carrey landed the evening’s biggest laugh with a simple act of levitation in a magician’s bar. (Second-best laugh belongs to Buscemi and his efforts to better the lives of Cambodian refugees who only want food and water. Trust me, in context, it’s funny.)
The laughs in Wonderstone may be intermittent, but when they land, they’re large. Prior to the screening, film program director Janet Pierson took the stage at the Paramount – as she’s wont to do – and boasted ever-so-slightly at the festival’s track record during her five-year tenure at landing spectacular opening night films. Seeing that her list includes The Cabin in the Woods (2012), Source Code (2011) and Kick-Ass (2010), you see her point. And while Burt doesn’t exactly live up to those genre hits, it offered juts enough magic to ensure that this year’s South By Southwest film festival got off on a strong foot.
Plenty more from Austin, including reviews of the Evil Dead reboot, Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s directorial debut Don Jon, Joss Whedon’s Shakespeare spin Much Ado About Nothing and an early look at Danny Boyle’s latest, Trance. Keep it here!
For more of our SXSW 2013 coverage, click HERE.