Serving one season as a basketball coach taught me there are three possible responses to my players’ actions on the court: correction when they mess up, praise when they get it right and, “Nice try,” when their effort is there but the execution falls short.

Twenty-five years ago, in the Hollywood dark ages of the 1980s, there were a lot of movies that didn’t just need correction, they needed a coach to throw a chair at them. Excessive sex and nudity, pointless profanity and story lines that were just depressing pervaded the industry. Somebody, call a technical foul – please.

But in 1985, something significant happened, a seismic shift in the silver screen. The revolutionary Movieguide organization began revealing to Hollywood executives that movies with a positive, redemptive story score much bigger at the box office.

The executives listened. Today, more than half of the movies Hollywood makes at least endeavor to include a positive, values-affirming story. Today, there are movies that actually deserve praise for their positive impact on culture.

Then there are those that merit a “nice try,” for the effort is there, even if the execution falls short.

Such is the case for the new Steve Carell and Jim Carrey comedy currently bombing in theaters called “The Incredible Burt Wonderstone.”

Like the significantly more successful “Identity Thief,” still showing in many locations, “Wonderstone” stars some top comedic talent in a goofball farce designed to have a redemptive, heart-warming ending.

So far, so good.

But where “Identity Thief” was derailed by leftist politics, “Wonderstone” falls short simply by failing to “execute” in the laugh department. Far too much of the film is a bland setup for the big laughs (there are a few), with characters not nearly as funny as the actors portraying them. It’s a sad waste of an excellent cast, though I do give kudos to Alan Arkin, who was outright hilarious in “Argo” and does his best to save every scene he can in “Wonderstone.”

The movie itself tells the story of a couple of boys who were mercilessly picked upon and despairing of their junior high existence until the day they discovered the joy of doing magic tricks. Years later, Burt Wonderstone and Anton Marvelton are magic superstars racking up big dollars in Las Vegas.

But when a new brand of magician, the edgy street performer Steve Gray (played by Jim Carrey) makes Burt and Anton look like yesterday’s news, the breakup of their act reveals just how selfish, commercialized and joyless their years of magic have become.

In the end, Burt and Anton must learn again the value of friendship, forgiveness and the joy of entertaining.

See? It sounds pretty good. And outside of still too much sexuality and obscenity, it’s a “nice try.”

“Nice try” for giving it a positive, redemptive story line. “Nice try” for making this comedy PG-13 instead of R. “Nice try” for pairing Carell and Carrey again, two actors who really should have more chemistry than they had in this rather blah effort.

But just “nice try” – for the execution fell far short, and this comedy team didn’t score nearly enough laughs to win the ballgame.

Content advisory:

  • “The Incredible Burt Wonderstone,” rated PG-13, contains roughly 40 obscenities and profanities, usually tossed in without thought or impact, distracting from the flow of the dialogue.
  • The film contains a fair amount of sexuality, usually played for comic effect, such as some goofy pelvic thrusting in a dance number and some innuendo/sex gags. Beyond a dozen or so “adult” (read: actually juvenile) jokes, there’s some shirtless guys, and in one scene a woman has her shirt stripped from her during a costume change, revealing her in a bra. In another scene a woman wearing only underwear is seen crawling across a bed (indicating implied sex the night before). There’s some kissing, and in one extended joke, a ditzy woman in tight clothing lies atop Wonderstone as they discuss having sex. The film is occasionally bawdy and not particularly funny when it goes there, but the movie doesn’t contain nearly enough skin or heavy sexuality to even flirt with a modern “R” rating.
  • The film’s violence is mostly limited to the street magician, who performs stunts that cross over into the bizarre and even gross, though all played for laughs. In one scene, for example, he cuts a prop out of his swollen cheek, in another he drills a hole in his own head. There’s a half dozen or so similar scenes.
  • The film’s only religious or occult content is a comment about a magician being “like a god” and some tattoos/jewelry that’s a bit Goth in nature.

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