The Incredible Burt Wonderstone
Steve Carell is Burt Wonderstone, a world-famous magician headlining at a Vegas Hotel with his magical partner, Anton (Steve Buschemi), whose life is thrown into turmoil with the arrival of a new magician, Steve Gray. In contrast to the campy pizazz of Wonderstone’s David Copperfield-esque show, Gray is a gross-out street performer whose “tricks” include sleeping on hot coals and not going to the toilet.
Burt Wonderstone is an entertaining, harmless, if forgettable movie whose specific focus on the title character results in an uneven narrative, ranging from slapstick comedy (mainly from Jim Carrey, whose Criss Angel-inspired Gray is by far the most dynamic, if despicable, character) to heart-warming indie flick and back again. Carell is engaging as Wonderstone, although all that separates this performance from any of his others is a bouffant hairpiece and some fake tan, while Buschemi is sympathetic but underused.
At the core, the film is about loving magic, and the wonder of a really great trick but, sadly, the magic in it is basic and uninspiring. With the focus on the magicians, their tricks – how the magic really works – are revealed too often, so the viewer is afforded no sense of awe, even in the final scene. Likeable and fun, The Incredible Burt Wonderstone is good, but (sorry folks), not incredible.
Easily the worst film of the day – in a day of mediocre movies – Identity Thief is head-smashingly, excruciatingly dull; a comedy without any comedy. Jason Bateman is Sandy Patterson, an average joe straight guy, whose identity is stolen by Diana (Melissa McCarthy), a truly hideous human being. Much is made of the hilarious fact that Sandy is a girl’s name; this brilliant gag is just one of many involving obesity, fat people having sex, foreigners, and other lame, crude-but-juvenile sources of entertainment.
When the police refuse to help, citing bureaucratic excuses, and Sandy risks losing his job, he elects to track down the thief himself, wherein the film becomes an irritating, boring odd-couple-road-trip saga. Bateman plays the same role he has always played, as does McCarthy. The audience is expected to like these insufferable characters because Sandy has a pregnant wife (the utterly irrelevant Amanda Peet) and Diana was abandoned as a baby. This, of course, excuses her horrific behaviour – her pathological lying, selfishness, unkindness, and total disregard for anyone other than herself. And, just to truly infuriate, Diana’s inevitable moral epiphany comes when a group of vacuous shop assistants cruelly judge her outwardly appearance – more than hypocritical in a film where the majority of its lengthy running time is dedicated to making a joke out of precisely that.
Unpleasant, overly long, drab and immature, Identity Thief is a truly horrible movie, with horrible characters, a horrible plot, and a saccharine-sweet (and, consequently, horrible) ending.
Jack the Giant Slayer
The latest in a long line of revisionary fairy tale movies, Jack the Giant Slayer is an altogether half-hearted affair that places too much emphasis on computer graphics, and not enough on plot or characterisation. Starring a wealth of British actors, including Nicholas Hoult (Warm Bodies), Ewan McGregor, Ian McShane, and Ewen Bremner alongside a surprisingly lacklustre Stanley Tucci, although it twists the classic story slightly, it is a mundane, generic outing.
Brian Singer, whose X-Men films helped to elevate graphic novel adaptations to their immensely popular status today, shows little flair or imagination here. The screenplay does not give him much to work with, however – too-obvious cliches are exploited, such as simultaneously introducing peasant Jack and princess Isabelle to show that, despite their different social status, they are kindred spirits. A largely humourless film, its CGI giants nevertheless fart, belch, and pick their nose; they also appear to change size frequently and don’t have enough strength to break down a wooden drawbridge (but enough to smash through a reinforced metal gate in seconds).
Along with the impressive (particularly in 3D) felling of the beanstalk, the film’s saving grace is Ewan McGregor who, as the deliberately bland, unflappable knight Elmond, is ironically the most charismatic presence. Jack himself is entirely forgettable. Lacking any sense of enthusiasm or, crucially, fun, Jack the Giant Slayer is too gory for kids, too juvenile for adults, and too serious to be entertaining.
This brightly coloured movie, filled with fantastical creatures and likeable characters, is a straight-up kids movie – less sophisticated as Pixar’s animated films, but a reasonably entertaining, inoffensive adventure with family at its core. The prehistoric world in which the Croods – mum, dad, rebellious teenage daughter, ignoramus son, mother-in-law, and feral baby – live is reminiscent more of Journey to the Centre of the Earth or The Mysterious Island than anything rooted in reality, giving the animators an opportunity to let their imaginations run wild.
Having survived various plagues and beasts because of the patriarch’s inherent fear of everything, the Croods’ difficult, yet familiar life is disrupted by the appearance of a handsome young man called Guy (Ryan Reynolds) and his claims about the end of the world. And, sure enough, he’s right – lurking behind them at all times is yet another apocalyptic natural disaster, providing a rather epic and ominous backdrop to all the psychedelic surrealism ahead. Thrust into a world where everything is new the Croods have to learn to adapt – while the film may initially appear to be focusing on the budding relationship between daughter Eep and Guy, really it’s much more about her father, who has to evolve, allow Eep to grow up, and learn to be less scared.
The Croods does have some nice moments – the interaction between the family members may be unoriginal, but it is pleasantly engaging. It is also refreshing to realise that this is a film without a bad guy – yes, some of the creatures they encounter try to eat them, but no one is evil or nasty. And, while their path has been destroyed by earthquakes, tsunamis, and volcanoes, the focus is always on the possibility of tomorrow.