Australian Council on Children and the Media

Incredible Burt Wonderstone, The

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Not recommended under 15 (Violence, Disturbing scenes and sexual references)

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This topic contains:

  • overall comments and recommendations
  • details of classification and consumer advice lines for Incredible Burt Wonderstone, The
  • a review of Incredible Burt Wonderstone, The completed by the Australian Council on Children and the Media (ACCM) on 14 March 2013.

Overall comments and recommendations

Children under 15 Not recommended due to violence, disturbing scenes and sexual references

About the movie

This section contains details about the movie, including its classification by the Australian Government Classification Board and the associated consumer advice lines.

Name of movie: Incredible Burt Wonderstone, The
Classification: M
Consumer advice lines: Comedic violence and sexual references
Length 100 minutes

ACCM review

This review of the movie contains the following information:

A synopsis of the 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, and 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 Unfortunately their act is outdated and they are threatened by the new magician on the block “Street Magician” Steve Gray (Jim Carrey).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 a very different type of magic involving outrageous stunts. Following dwindling audience numbers hotel owner Doug Munny (James Gandolfini) gives Burt and Anton an ultimatum to change with the times and modernise their show for a younger audience or be fired. Unfortunately, Burt is unable to cope with the challenge of changing the act and the partnership ends.

Bert’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 folks” home and runs into his childhood hero Rance Holloway (Alan Arkin).

Themesinfo

Children and adolescents may react adversely at different ages to themes of crime, suicide, drug and alcohol dependence, death, serious illness, family breakdown, death or separation from a parent, animal distress or cruelty to animals, children as victims, natural disasters and racism. Occasionally reviews may also signal themes that some parents may simply wish to know about.

Magic; self mutilation; change and ageing

Use of violenceinfo

Research shows that children are at risk of learning that violence is an acceptable means of conflict resolution when violence is glamourised, performed by an attractive hero, successful, has few real life consequences, is set in a comic context and / or is mostly perpetrated by male characters with female victims, or by one race against another.

Repeated exposure to violent content can reinforce the message that violence is an acceptable means of conflict resolution. Repeated exposure also increases the risks that children will become desensitised to the use of violence in real life or develop an exaggerated view about the prevalence and likelihood of violence in their own world.

The film contains scenes of schoolyard bullying, some slapstick violence, reckless stunts and self mutilation. Examples include:

  • In a flashback scene several school boys chase the young Burt shouting “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 hangman’s noose tied around his neck, a trapdoor is released and we see Burt falling through the trap door to dangle at the end of the rope. He is uninjured.
  • As part of his act, Steve Gray has copious amounts of pepper spray sprayed into his open eyes and he screams out in pain. 
  • In reference to Steve Grays’s acts of self mutilation, magician Burt Wonderstone makes the comment, “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, magician Steve Gray walks on a bed of red hot coals. We hear the sound of flesh sizzling and Gray says that people are not smelling hot barbecue, but his flesh burning. Assistants lower him backwards onto the hot coals and he appears to fall asleep, waking up every few seconds screaming in pain and then going back to sleep. As a result of watching Gray’s stunt, one spectator bends over and vomits.   
  • While performing at a children’s birthday party, magician Steve Gray shocks children when he appears to crush a small puppy between his two hands making it disappear. The puppy reappears a short time later in a box.
  • While performing at a birthday party, magician Steve Gray holds his forearm over a number of large birthday candles then shows the children his burnt forearm revealing the blackened words ‘Happy Birthday’ burnt 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 do not 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.   

Material that may scare or disturb children

Under fiveinfo

Children under five are most likely to be frightened by scary visual images, such as monsters, physical transformations.

In addition to the above-mentioned violent scenes, there are some scenes in this movie that could scare or disturb children under the age of five, including the following:

  • In a perilous 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 and Burt and Anton also fall. Anton, complaining that both his ankles are broken, is carried off on a stretcher and placed in an ambulance.

Aged five to eightinfo

Children aged five to eight will also be frightened by scary visual images and will also be disturbed by depictions of the death of a parent, a child abandoned or separated from parents, children or animals being hurt or threatened and / or natural disasters.

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

Aged eight to thirteeninfo

Children aged eight to thirteen are most likely to be frightened by realistic threats and dangers, violence or threat of violence and / or stories in which children are hurt or threatened.

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

Over thirteeninfo

Children over the age of thirteen are most likely to be frightened by realistic physical harm or threats, molestation or sexual assault and / or threats from aliens or the occult.

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

Product placement

None of concern

Sexual references

The film contains a number of sexual references and innuendoes throughout. Examples include:

  • 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 telling him that his mother was a whore. 
  • A part of a stunt, Burt is placed in a plastic container that is raised up into the air, and we hear Bert say “I just realised that I won’t be having sex for a week”.

Nudity and sexual activity

There is some partial nudity and sexual activity in this movie, including:

  • Women wear low-cut dresses and underwear that reveal a degree of cleavage.
  • A woman walks into the bathroom while Burt is in the bath and he tells her that it is OK because he is having a bubble bath and is covered by bubbles. However, when the woman approaches the bath she gasps and Burt says “The bubbles appeared to have dissipated”. He then 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 and is next seen waking up in Burt’s bed the following morning. 
  • Burt and a woman passionately kiss and hug each other. Burt use sleight of hand to remove the woman’s bra from underneath her clothing, while the woman pulls condoms from behind Burt’s ear.

Use of substances

There is some use of substances in this movie, including:

  • In a flashback scene we see Burt and Anton sitting down for lunch at school. Anton pulls out several bottles containing various medications and comments that his doctor said he was dangerously close to being a girl and that one of the medications was a testosterone supplement.  
  • Several bar scenes with people holding glasses and drinking.
  • Burt appears to be drunk in a couple of scenes
  • Burt and Anton import large quantities of a drug from South America and use it to make an entire audience unconscious.

Coarse language

There is some coarse language in this movie, including:

  • loser; dumb jock; arsehole; whore, bitch fest; goddamn; shit;  holding my piss; crap his pants; what the fart

In a nutshell

The Incredible Burt Wonderstone is a comedy targeting an older adolescent and adult audience but lacking both real comedy and character development. Tweens and teens might be attracted by the title and the story about magicians, so parents should be aware that it is not recommended for children under 15 because of violence, including bullying and self-mutilation, and sexual references. The scenes involving self mutilation, real or otherwise, are particularly disturbing and younger children may try to imitate both some of  the stunts and the coarse language. Parents of older children who see the film may wish to discuss the appropriateness of Burt’s attitude to women.

The main positive messages from this movie are:

  • The secret to happiness is finding your true passion in life.
  • The importance of friendship

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