Legendary magician Burt Wonderstone (Steve Carell) splits from his longtime Las Vegas stage partner Anton Marvelton (Steve Buscemi) after a guerrilla street magic man (Jim Carrey) steals their thunder. Reduced to performing tricks in a retirement home, he discovers one old resident (Alan Arkin) is his childhood magician hero. Reinvigorated, he returns to the fray... and reteams with Anton to perform one final, incredible stunt. 30 Rock director Don Scardino conjures up a likeable comedy that casts a spell thanks to first-rate performances and the odd detour into darker territory.
The tired magic routine of jaded Las Vegas veterans Burt Wonderstone (Carell) and Anton Marvelton (Buscemi) is made to look particularly old hat with the arrival of Jim Carrey's guerrilla conjurer Steve Gray.
Where the squabbling Burt and Anton are lethargically content to trot out old favourites in spangly costumes to the backing track of Steve Miller's Abracadabra, Gray's endurance artist delights street audiences by digging playing cards out of his cheek with a pen-knife.
The latter's grungey approach to the illusionist's art persuades mega resort boss Doug Munny (Gandolfini) to dispense with the services of his two old stagers, who are on the brink of splitting anyway thanks to Burt's serial bedding of pliant groupies and Anton's disenchantment with life on the Strip.
Anton zooms off on a Comic Relief style trip to the Third World where he dispenses starter magic kits to children who want food and fresh water while Burt heads off to obscurity and ends up entertaining retired performers at a Las Vegas rest home.
However, it is here that he runs into the irascible Rance Holloway (Arkin), the veteran magician who inspired Burt to take up the wand and who's game to help his young protege audition - against Gray - for a slot at Munny's new casino, imaginatively named Doug's.
30 Rock director Don Scardino is well-served by a high-calibre cast with Carell, Buscemi and Carrey unselfishly rotating the comedy spotlight while Olivia Wilde demonstrates her comedy chops as the foxy assistant who falls for the new Burt. Unsurprisingly, it's serial scene-stealer Alan Arkin who commits yet another grand larceny as the grumpy Rance.
Carell is born to play this sort of role, never making Burt too unlikeable as the cynical, self-despising swordsman yet winning back the audience's sympathy while Buscemi in an all too rare comedy portrayal displays an impressive sense of timing.
Carrey as the David Blaine-style showman has little more than a generous cameo but makes every narcissistic moment preeningly count as his stunts veer from mild discomfort to out-and-out self torture.
The tone veers from the sunnily laugh-out-loud to something darker (particularly the final reel) yet Scardino keeps things rolling along nicely, propelled by a script that scores a high gag rate.