Steve Carell manages something he hasn't in ages – to be funny – in this amiable and chucklesome comedy of warring stage magicians.
He plays the arrogant, perma-tanned Burt, one half of a Las Vegas magic act with Anton (Steve Buscemi), friends since boyhood but now fraying badly and losing audiences by the score. Their spangled, tacky showmanship looks ever more outmoded next to the edgy street performance of Steve Gray (Jim Carrey) who specialises in endurance stunts, the more grotesque the better: lying on hot coals, drilling a hole through his head etc.
In an attempt to keep up – and to appease their increasingly disaffected casino employer (James Gandolfini) – Burt and Anton try the David Blaine trick of inhabiting a glass box raised on high, with predictable consequences. The script (by Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley) doesn't play many variations on the fall-from-grace story of showbiz losers, and yet it maintains a winning flow of laughs.
One superb sequence has Burt flailing through his act solo after his split from Anton, unable to adjust to the fact that Anton's not there, so entrenched is their routine in his head. Carrey, also funnier than he's been in ages, does a weirdly demented schtick while on that bed of coals, alternately snoring and screaming.
Best of all is Alan Arkin as old-school illusionist Rance Holloway, whose tricks first inspired Burt as a youth. His criticism of his pupil's decline is wonderfully succinct – "Your patter is boring and sad. You've got no joy in yourself" – and his withering looks of disapproval are a little masterclass on their own. It's daft, and charming.
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