The SXSW Film Festival's opening night, long the terrain of celebrity-infused audience-pleasers, from "Kick-Ass" to "The Cabin In the Woods," this year played to a seemingly winning formula. Friday evening, Jim Carrey, Steve Carell and Olivia Wilde took to the stage at the Paramount Theater in the heart of Austin to introduce "The Incredible Burt Wonderstone" to a packed and rowdy audience that SXSW seems to breed and studios (and their smaller brethren) eat up. If spontaneous hollers and boisterous guffaws can pass as a barely scientific poll for how a film played, then "The Incredible Burt Wonderstone" appeared to be a hit. Brass at New Line, indeed, received what past openers have found here -- a raucous crowd.
"We've been really lucky to have wonderful opening nights the last [several] years," said SXSW Film Festival Producer Janet Pierson, before introducing Carell, Carrey and Wilde on stage before the screening. "We always wonder if we can do it again and I think we did. This movie is fucking hilarious!"
Pierson's F-bomb set the tone for "Burt Wonderstone," in which Carell and Steve Buscemi play a pair of magicians who have ruled the Las Vegas Strip for years. Carell's Wonderstone is an arrogant A-lister who can't see that his act is becoming stale. He's at odds with his sidekick Anton (Buscemi). As the reigning magic duo lose favor in Vegas, their friendship also fades.
Nipping at their glittering toes is upstart street magician Steve Gray (Jim Carrey), who dazzles passersby with tricks that both gross-out and delight his growing audiences (let's just say that power drills, fire, and flesh wounds abound). Wonderstone competes with rival Gray to gain favor from a Vegas Strip mogul (James Gandolfini). And when Wonderstone hits rock bottom, he meets a childhood magician hero who sets him on the road to rehabilitation.
"I know Criss Angel and David Blaine and I wanted to wrap them together into a warped next edition," said Carrey who shows off a six-pack in the movie. Some tricks drew gasps from the audience; P.E.T.A. will not be pleased with scenes involving a pigeon and some rabbits. And if the actors managed to escape pain in some scenes, then that must've been - well - magic.
"It was all real," laughed Carell. "We did have to learn the slight of hand, but real magicians can do this stuff incredibly. You can't just learn that quickly. But the hangman trick David Copperfield designed-- we performed that ourselves!"
While Carell won applause as Wonderstone as well as his previous gig starring in TV's "The Office" Friday night. Carrey noted that the show had ended, but Carell offered up the evening's only sober moment: "I'm very fortunate to be employed and I'm counting my blessings," he said.