There are certain types of films—let’s call them Will Ferrell comedies—that are predicated on a tried-and-true idiodyssey. A racecar driver, or a competitive ice skater, or a ’70s TV newsman, will bask in a blustery arrogance coupled with a serious lack of self-awareness. He’ll fall from grace, thanks to an equally delusional rival; our hero must then work his way back to the top, usually with the help of a cantankerous mentor or an estranged, equally dim-witted sidekick. You’ll wonder, in fact, while watching this lazy attempt to drop Steve Carell into a triumph-of-the-Will scenario about Vegas illusionists, if the titular role was originally written for Ferrell—just as Steve Buscemi’s second banana could have been penned for John C. Reilly, and Jim Carrey’s Criss Angel–like street magician was probably slotted for Ben Stiller.
No matter; this aggressively humorless farce would play like a dead rabbit pulled out of a hat, regardless of the casting choices. If you’ve watched Carell’s tenure on The Office, you know he could easily occupy the alpha-moron throne. But neither the screenwriters nor 30 Rock veteran Don Scardino can set up a single gag properly, though they do know how to efficiently waste comic talent (including Alan Arkin and Olivia Wilde). Wonderstone’s climax revolves around an improbable comeback trick that involves making an entire audience disappear. The movie itself should have no problem accomplishing that feat long before the end credits.
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