Now You See Me, Review

What is a great thief but a great magician? Now You See Me is an enticing actualization of this comparison, a caper that literally gives the slick craftiness and dedication not to members of Danny Ocean’s group, but to actual magicians.

In Now You See Me, a unique heist film from Incredible Hulk director Louis Leterrier, Jesse Eisenberg leads a quartet of magicians (Isla Fisher, Dave Franco, and Woody Harrelson) called “The Four Horsemen,” who are sponsored by mega-rich guy Arthur Tressler (Michael Caine). Brought together by a mysterious force that gives them instructions on what their next tricks will be, these performers use their magic skills for elaborate shows that double as heists. As the magicians are working up their audience with certain tricks, both big and small, they are also taking money from banks, and in one case, from the bank account of a wealthy individual. The strangest part? The heists are all a part of the show, sometimes concluding with money raining down on audience members.How can magicians pull off such a feat in public? And are these performers more than human? Out to answer these questions, while simultaneously investigating these heists, is FBI agent Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo), who is new to the world of magic. He is assisted by Interpol agent Alma Dray (Melanie Laurent, from Inglourious Basterds and Beginners). At the same time, Rhodes’ pursuit of catching these elusive magicians is outsmarted by magic debunker Thaddeus Bradley (Freeman), who plays the James Randi of this film, making his living by revealing the mechanics behind the tricks of other magicians.Now You See Me wants to be a crafty being of its own, and in some regard it does earn that definition. From the beginning, in which the separate members of the Four Horsemen are given individual introductions, Now You See Me takes off as a script with a healthy dose of mystery, and a fair amount of payoff to its magic shenanigans. The film’s first performance, in which the quartet rob a bank in another country while still in Las Vegas, has the type of intrigue that sets a solid stage for a tale that has numerous shifts, deceptions, and a big twist at the end. Director Leterrier puts together this trick of a movie with the sole goal of making it glisten, managing the script’s tightness with a desire to keep things as functionally smooth as possible. He does have a few sparks of his own, as allotted to him by bits of action in the story. A chase scene through New Orleans adds a bit of pep to the sequence with an extended one-take, as Ruffalo chases Eisenberg through crowded locations.Despite the movie’s solid casting, these lightly written characters are out-shined by the spectacle they are involved in. Whereas a movie like Ocean’s Eleven could make distinctive characters out of robbers caught up in a mega heist, this movie hardly can give personality to a quartet. Eisenberg and company are all amusing to watch considering their charisma, but the characters they inhabit are relatively empty. With less interesting actors, (Dave Franco needs more work, especially), this movie certainly wouldn’t have the same traction. They are more defined by their specific ability, over anything else. As I am sure it is in the cards, if a franchise were to be made, some work would have to be done to give this duo some life.Stealing the show is Ruffalo, who along with last year’s Avengers, has hit his stride in which his disheveled nature and sleepy eyes makes for good comedy, especially as the underdog. The script’s angle of turning this caper into an investigation movie never proves all that interesting, but we can all at least be grateful it is Ruffalo who is our surrogate, jolted around the movie and trying to keep up himself.While Now You See Me is packed with a notable cast, in that same regard there’s enough her for two films. Parallel almost-there subplots involving Ruffalo’s investigation and Freeman’s debunking feel too big to be in the same film; instead, one subplot feels like a wasted idea that could have waited for a sequel. This imbalance of both elements takes away from that desired smoothness.Both subplots eventually combine for the film’s final reveal, which is not that Now You See Me is a superbly clever movie about a very compelling craft, but only a fairly entertaining one. Most of all, the film admits that it doesn’t have enough tricks up its sleeve to engineer a twist that doesn’t involve lying to its audience. This is the type of movie in which characters are all pawns to a trick ultimately played on the actual audience, as opposed to a twist experienced exclusively for characters themselves, which audience members are all witness to.Unfortunately, Now You See Me too readily embraces the weaker aspect of what makes magic so impressive. Instead of utilizing Penn & Teller-like showmanship, eventually Now You See Me devolves into a script inspired by Criss Angel: Mindfreak binge viewings, soaking up the phony theatrics while trying to purport them to be just as real as everything else in the course of the film’s events. Even the conclusion of Now You See Me, which completely puts the film on the wrong side of magic seriousness, underestimates the more exciting realism of magic, in which the possible is made out of the impossible.As much fun as this film may be, especially to see a heist concept realized by people who are actually magicians, instead of those who only act like them, Now You See Me would be even better if it had more clever tricks. Instead, this promising film relies on the more manipulative aspects of movie magic.Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter for all news updates related to the world of geek. And Google+, if that’s your thing!