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Redemption of Hollywood not ... quite ... done

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: