Reel Reviews

‘The Incredible Burt Wonderstone’

Audience:
L – limited adult audience

 

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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.

By Joseph McAleer, Catholic News Service

 

‘The Call’

Audience:
A-III – adults

 

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For most of its running time, director Brad Anderson’s thriller “The Call” (TriStar) plays out as serviceable, if uninspired, entertainment for adults. But late developments make it first thoroughly implausible and then – through an appeal to viewers’ basest and most visceral instincts – morally unacceptable.

In a bid to answer the question, “What is life like on the other end of a 911 call?” Anderson takes us inside “The Hive,” the bustling room where Los Angeles police specialists field urgent requests for help. Among these professional soothers is veteran emergency-line operator Jordan (Halle Berry).

Rattled, early on in the proceedings, by a mistake that proves to have fatal consequences, Jordan retreats from the switchboard and takes on the safer role of instructor for 911 trainees. When the terrified call of a kidnapping victim named Casey (Abigail Breslin) flummoxes one of her less-experienced colleagues, however, Jordan swings back into action.

A latter-day Valley Girl, teen Casey was minding her own business at the local mall when she fell into the clutches of chloroform-wielding psychopath Michael (Michael Eklund). While Michael is old-fashioned enough not to realize that chloroform went out with spats, Casey is modern enough to be carrying her cell phone. So, after waking up in Michael’s trunk, she lets her fingers do the walking. Together, Casey and Jordan come up with some creative stratagems – but, temporarily at least, to no avail. As wily Michael manages to stay one step ahead of her, Jordan becomes increasingly invested in Casey’s fate. So much so, in fact, that the plot ends up on a collision course with credibility.

More importantly, a final twist finds this drama’s supposed good guys flouting both the law and the standards of civilized behavior. As they do, Richard D'Ovidio’s screenplay implicitly invites the audience not only to sympathize with their revenge-driven wrongdoing, but to revel in it.

The film contains an endorsement of vigilantism, much violence, some of it gory, at least one use of profanity, several sexual references and occasional rough and crude language. The Catholic News Service classification is O – morally offensive. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R – restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.

By John Mulderig, Catholic News Service

Monthly List of Recent Film Ratings (April)

A
Across the Divide, A-II (no rating)
Admission, L (PG-13)
Amour, L (PG-13)
The Awakening, A-III (R)

B
Beautiful Creatures, L (PG-13)
Broken City, L (R)
Bullet to the Head, O (R)
Bully, A-III (PG-13)

C
The Call, O (R)
Cloud Atlas, O (R)
The Croods, A-I (PG)

D
Dark Skies, A-III (PG-13)
Dead Man Down, O (R)
Django Unchained, L (R)
Dream House, L (PG-13)

G
Gangster Squad, L (R)
G.I. Joe: Retaliation, A-III (PG-13)
A Good Day to Die Hard, L (R)
The Guilt Trip, A-III (PG-13)

H
Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters, O (R)
A Haunted House, O (R)
Hellbound?, A-III (no rating)
Hyde Park on Hudson, O (R)

I
Identity Thief, L (R)
The Incredible Burt Wonderstone, L (PG-13)

J
Jack Reacher, L (PG-13)
Jack the Giant Slayer, A-II (PG-13)

K
Killer Elite, A-III (R)

L
The Last Exorcism Part II, L (PG-13)
The Last Stand, L (R)

M
Mama, A-III (PG-13)
Movie 43, O (R)

O
Olympus Has Fallen, L (R)
The Oogieloves in the Big Balloon Adventure, A-I (G)
Oz the Great and Powerful, A-II (PG)

P
Parker, O (R)
Phantom, A-III (R)
Promised Land, A-III (R)

Q
Quartet, A-III (PG-13)

R
Restless Heart, A-II (no rating)

S
Safe Haven, L (PG-13)
Side Effects, L (R)
Silver Linings Playbook, A-III (R)
Skyfall, A-III (PG-13)
Something Borrowed, L (PG-13)

T
Texas Chainsaw 3D, O (R)
21 and Over, O (R)
Tyler Perry's Temptation: Confessions of a Marriage Counselor, A-III (PG-13)

W
Warm Bodies, A-III (PG-13)