Story

As a young child, Burt Wonderstone is a loner who is bullied by his peers at school. Burt’s life changes when he is given a ‘Rance Holloway’ magic kit for his birthday. He develops a passion for performing magic tricks, which he believes will make him more popular. Burt teams up with another outcast, Anton Marvelton, who also has a passion for magic tricks and the two young magicians form a partnership.

Thirty years later Burt (Steve Carell) and Anton (Steve Buscemi) are aging magician superstars, who perform in their own theatre in a Las Vegas Hotel. Unfortunately their act is outdated, and they are threatened by the new magician on the block – ‘street magician’ Steve Gray (Jim Carrey). Gray has his own internet show called ‘Mind Rapist’ and performs magic involving outrageous stunts. Dwindling audience numbers lead hotel owner Doug Munny (James Gandolfini) to give Burt and Anton an ultimatum – change with the times and modernise their show for a younger audience, or be fired. Unfortunately, Burt can’t cope with the challenge of changing the act and the partnership ends.

Burt’s attempt to go solo fails miserably, and he quickly becomes destitute. Luckily, Burt’s life takes a turn for the better when he lands a job entertaining residents in an old people’s home. Here he runs into his childhood hero Rance Holloway (Alan Arkin).

Themes

Magic; self-mutilation; change and ageing

Violence

This movie has scenes of school bullying, some slapstick violence, reckless stunts and self-mutilation. For example:

  • In a flashback scene, several school boys chase the young Burt. They shout, ‘We’re going to kill you’. When the boys catch him, they hurl him up against a tree and force him to eat bark. In a later scene, the same group of boys hurl Burt against school lockers, punch him in the stomach and then pull him up by his shirt collar, calling him a loser.
  • In a magic stunt, Burt has a hood placed over his head and a hangman’s noose tied around his neck. A trapdoor is released, and Burt falls through the trap door to dangle at the end of the rope. He isn’t hurt.
  • As part of his act, Steve Gray has lots of pepper spray sprayed into his open eyes. He screams out in pain.
  • Talking about Steve Gray’s acts of self-mutilation, Burt says, ‘All he does is mumble and cut himself – my niece does that’.
  • A spectator punches Steve Gray in the face, knocking him to the ground. When Gray gets up, he has a large swelling on the side of his face where he was punched. He takes out a knife and cuts his swollen cheek and blood oozes out. Gray pulls a bloody folded playing card from the wound and later stitches up the cut with a needle and thread.
  • In a stunt, Steve Gray walks on a bed of red hot coals. We hear the sound of flesh sizzling, and Gray says that people are smelling his flesh burning. Assistants lower him backwards onto the hot coals, and he appears to fall asleep. He wakes up every few seconds screaming in pain and then goes back to sleep. After watching Gray’s stunt, one spectator bends over and vomits.
  • While performing at a children’s birthday party, Steve Gray shocks children when he seems to crush a small puppy between his two hands and makes it disappear. The puppy reappears a short time later in a box.
  • While performing at a birthday party, Steve Gray holds his forearm over several large birthday candles. He shows the children his burned forearm with the blackened words ‘Happy Birthday’ burned into his arm. A short time later, he hammers a nail into a table and then rams his forehead onto the nail, embedding it in his forehead.
  • Steve Gray drills into the side of his head with a power drill. We see the drill bit disappearing into his head, but we don’t see any blood and gore. He walks off stage with the drill embedded in his head.
  • After drugging an entire audience, Burt Wonderstone and Anton Marvelton drag the unconscious people downstairs and throw them roughly into the back of a truck. Their heads are knocked on stairs, and their bodies bashed as they are thrown into the truck.

Content that may disturb children

Under 5

In addition to the violent scenes mentioned above, this movie has some scenes that could scare or disturb children under five years.

For example, in a dangerous stunt that goes wrong, Burt and Anton are placed in a large plastic shipping container raised high above the ground. Burt loses control, screaming and pounding and kicking the sides of the container. The side of the container breaks away and falls to the ground. Burt and Anton also fall. Anton is carried off on a stretcher and placed in an ambulance. He complains that both his ankles are broken. 

From 5-8

Children in this age group are also likely to be disturbed by the violent and scary scenes mentioned above. 

From 8-13

Children in this age group are also likely to be disturbed by the violent and scary scenes mentioned above. 

Over 13

Younger children in this age group are also likely to be disturbed by some of the violent and scary scenes mentioned above. 

Sexual references

This movie has sexual references and innuendoes throughout. For example:

  • Burt tells his assistant that he has a new bed that easily sleeps two dozen people. He then asks her if she would like to see it naked and have sex with him. When she refuses, he asks her if she is a lesbian and says that he has slept with lots of lesbians.
  • During a performance, Steve Gray provokes a man in the audience, saying that the man’s mother was a whore.
  • A part of a stunt, Burt is placed in a plastic container that is raised up into the air. He says, ‘I just realised that I won’t be having sex for a week’. 

Alcohol, drugs and other substances

This movie shows some use of substances. For example:

  • In a flashback scene, Burt and Anton sit down for lunch at school. Anton pulls out several bottles containing various medications. He says that his doctor says he is dangerously close to being a girl and that one of the medications is a testosterone supplement.
  • There are several bar scenes with people holding glasses and drinking.
  • Burt seems to be drunk in a couple of scenes.
  • Burt and Anton import large quantities of a drug from South America. They use it to make an entire audience unconscious. 

Nudity and sexual activity

This movie has some nudity and sexual activity. For example:

  • Women wear low-cut dresses and underwear that shows some cleavage.
  • A woman walks into the bathroom while Burt is in the bath. He tells her that it is OK because he is having a bubble bath and he is covered by bubbles. But when the woman approaches the bath, she gasps. Burt says, ‘The bubbles appeared to have dissipated’. He invites the woman to get in.
  • As part of their act, Burt and Anton dance in a sensual but comical manner with their female assistant, both men rubbing their bodies up against her.
  • A woman walks into Burt’s bedroom. She is next seen waking up in Burt’s bed the following morning.
  • Burt and a woman passionately kiss and hug each other. Burt uses a trick to remove the woman’s bra from underneath her clothing, while the woman pulls condoms from behind Burt’s ear. 

Product placement

None of concern 

Coarse language

This movie has some coarse language. 

Ideas to discuss with your children

The Incredible Burt Wonderstone is a comedy targeting an older adolescent and adult audience but lacking both real comedy and character development.

Tweens and teenagers might be attracted by the title and the story about magicians, so you should be aware that it isn’t recommended for children under 13 years. Parental guidance is strongly recommended for children aged 13-15 years because of the movie’s violence, including bullying and self-mutilation, and sexual references. The scenes involving self-mutilation, real or magical, are particularly disturbing. Younger children might try to copy both the stunts and the coarse language.

If you have older children who see the movie, you could talk with them about the appropriateness of Burt’s attitude to women.

These are the main positive messages from this movie:

  • The secret to happiness is finding your true passion in life.
  • Friendship is very important.