By Mike Snider
AUSTIN - If the crowd response at the world premiere ofThe Incredible Burt Wonderstoneis any indication, the film starring Steve Carell and Jim Carrey could conjure up a magical following when it opens in theaters next weekend.
A packed audience at the Paramount Theatre Friday night laughed, cheered and gasped at some of the tricks performed in the film, which was the first movie screened during the 10-day festival.
As Wonderstone, Carell plays a successful Las Vegas magician who, with his partner Anton Marvelton (Steve Buscemi), has ruled the strip for a decade before shock conjurer Steve Gray (Carrey) arrives on the scene.
Wonderstone and Marvelton haven't pulled enough new tricks lately and the less-than-cryptically named casino boss Doug Munny (James Gandolfini) fires them. They wind up competing with Gray for the high-paying gig at Munny's new hotel.
Let's just say Gray's bit with a drill goes beyond the craft of modern-day conjurers such as Criss Angel, who served as an inspiration for the character. "There was him and David Blaine and all of those guys," Carrey told the crowd during a question-and-answer session after the screening. "I wanted to kind of mix them together and be the warped cultural next edition, the worrisome next phase (of magician)."
Carrey's heavy metalesque magician is quite a contrast to the flamboyant Vegas team of Carell and Buscemi. Wonderstone "is a guy in dire need of redemption," said Carell in a red carpet interview before the screening. "He is incredibly narcissistic and burned out and self-centered and needs to rekindle his friendship with his best friend (Marvelton) and needs to find himself and his love of magic again," he said. "It's a very identifiable story. ... I thought it was a hilarious world. It was something I had never seen before in a comedy."
That was part of the attraction for screenwriters Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley, who pennedHorrible Bossesand are working on a sequel to that film. "Anyone who's seen a Vegas magic show knows how ridiculous it can be," said Daley, who has a cameo inWonderstoneand plays Dr. Lance Sweets on the Fox TV seriesBones. "So the fact that no one had ever exploited that we thought was a crime."
"And we were big magic fans as kids," added Goldstein, named dropping Doug Henning and David Copperfield. "So it was a natural fit."
In fact, Copperfield appears in the film, which opens nationally on Friday, and served as a consultant in helping pull off an illusion called "The Hangman" in the film. "It was done totally practically without camera tricks," Daley said. "It was cool to be part of that."
As the duo's pressed-into-service assistant, Olivia Wilde holds her own with the cast of scene stealers. "I was channeling my inner Lucy (Lucille Ball)," she said. "When I brought ideas that may have involved physical comedy that might have seemed a little wacky (the rest of the cast) were the ones saying, 'Great, let's try it.' We improvised a lot and I was really pleased to see a lot of that end up in the film."
The crowd fell under the film's spell, said moviegoer Matilda Clements of Oklahoma City, who attended the screening with husband, Ed, and son, Bryant, a film major. "I thought it was fabulous." She particularly enjoyed an early scene in which Wonderstone and Marvelton try to top Gray with a public stunt in which they hang suspended in a plexiglass box above the Strip. "And," she said, "Alan Arkin was great, too," as a retired magician who inspires Wonderstone.
Her husband Ed added that "Jim Carrey was remarkably dialed down in a way that really made him even funnier to watch."