Steve Carell and Jim Carrey square off as rival magicians who find Las Vegas isn't big enough for both of their supersized egos in The Incredible Burt Wonderstone. From longtime 30 Rock director Don Scardino, the film stars Carell as the title hero who, together with his partner and childhood friend Anton Marvelton (a perfectly-cast Steve Buscemi), has been at the top of the Vegas magic scene for the past decade. Now though, Steve Gray (Carrey), a Criss Angel-style street magician, is threatening their dominance and making their act look stale. (Those spangled velour jumpsuits don't help.)

Bruce Almighty marked the last time Carell and Carrey went up against one another, but for this rematch, Carell's the headliner and Carrey the foil. So which comedy heavyweight comes out on top in The Incredible Burt Wonderstone? To find out, I broke down which of the film's two main acts deserves top billing.

Venue: For the past ten years, Burt and Anton have been packing capacity crowds into their own personal theater with their names in lights out front as headliners at Bally's, former home to Vegas acts like Dean Martin. Steve Gray, meanwhile, takes his popular cable show, "Brain Rapist," to the Vegas streets, former home to thousands of drunk tourists sleeping one off. But both are looking for upgraded digs in the brand-new casino of Vegas mogul Doug Munny (James Gandolfini). Still, I'm giving this one to Gray, because what street magic lacks in prestige, it makes up for in low overhead.

Winner: Carrey

Costumes: Watching The Incredible Burt Wonderstone, you can't help but feel for Carell, who's forced to brave the desert heat in varying combinations of velour and rhinestones for Wonderstone's decidedly old-Vegas costumes. But at least he gets to take the jumpsuits off from time to time, unlike his perma-spray tan. The worst Carrey has to wear was a pair of leather pants, and while I doubt they breathe much better, Carrey ought to be thanking his agent that his character's wardrobe was inspired by Criss Angel and not Siegfried and Roy.

Winner: Carrey

Repertoire: As Gob Bluth would say, these aren't tricks, they're illusions. But whatever you call them, Wonderstone and Gray's styles couldn't be more wildly different. Carrey's Gray is a mashup of Criss Angel and David Blaine, and his repertoire mainly involves feats of masochism that play to Carrey's own bag of tricks: it's all big stunts and showy slapstick, like spending a night on hot coals or holding his pee for a week. Burt and Anton's act may be more old school, but it's also better developed, thanks to some special consulting from David Copperfield. Acts like Hangman and the Burt Locker might actually be something an audience would pay to see. Not to mention, Burt's slight of hand is much more useful when it's time for the movie's obligatory sex scene, even if you'll spend half of it wondering just how Carell managed his biggest magic trick of the whole movie: getting Olivia Wilde to film a sex scene with him.

Winner: Carell

Assistants: Carell's Wonderstone has an ego so big he needs to sleep in a bed built for 12; either that, or he's just a man who likes having company. Because at various stages of the movie Carell gets to partner up with Buscemi, who's perfectly-matched as Burt's "magical friend," the aforementioned Wilde, unwittingly thrust into the role of their assistant, and Alan Arkin as Burt's childhood hero Rance Holloway. All three help keep Wonderstone's pompous act from getting stale or overplayed, though it would've been nice to see more from the underused Buscemi and Wilde. And all Carrey gets to work off of is a team of extras and nameless assistants there to hand him props and otherwise get out of the man's way.

Winner: Carell

Showmanship: Admittedly, Wonderstone's routine is a little dated, and that's not just referring to using the Steve Miller Band's "Abracadabra" as Burt and Anton's theme song. After a decade doing the same show over and over again, Burt's just going through the motions at this point. And that could've just as easily described Carell lately. So after years of sad-sack film roles, it's fun to watch the comedian act like a self-important ass, even if he's just doing a budget Ron Burgundy imitation. Still, watching Carell attempt to roll through an evening of Burt and Anton's Magical Friendship sans Anton is a reminder of the man's A-list comedy talent.

Carrey plays to his strengths as well, and his face is no less elastic now than it was in his prime. But much like Carell's Wonderstone, Carrey's star doesn't shine quite as brightly as it used to, and his personal brand of over-the-top slapstick doesn't play as well as it did back when he was headlining movies like Bruce Almighty, a problem The Incredible Burt Wonderstone ultimately suffers from as well.

Winner: Carell

Final Tally: 3-2, in favor of Carell. His movie may not be all that incredible, but Burt Wonderstone still comes out on top.



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categories Movies