jason stives tries some slight of hand …
In the hierarchy of entertainment coolness magicians tend to fall somewhere near the bottom just above mimes. Whether its birthday parties or Vegas stage shows magic acts and illusionists in general always ride the line of hokey and cheesy and passing them off in any other medium is a difficult thing to do. Beyond The Prestige and maybe even The Illusionist, magicians in films aren’t exactly the cat’s pajamas either but compared to other films Now You See Me has some things working in its favor on paper. The idea of a group of illusionists pulling off heists seems a bit silly but at the same time feels remarkably clever. Couple this with an all-star cast that includes: Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg, Morgan Freeman, and Michael Caine and things should work well. So it’s no surprise that the film squanders its best bits into a film that while a pretty decent heist film is all smoke and mirrors with little substance or explanation to its point.
After an introduction that sets up our four main players Now You See Me introduces us to the world of the Four Horsemen, a popular Vegas magic show that comprises a prestidigitator (Jesse Eisenberg) an escape artist (Isla Fisher) a hypnotist (Woody Harrelson) and a card throwing pick pocketer (Dave Franco). After they seemingly steel the contents of a French bank in front a live audience the FBI is called in led by agent Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo) to find some evidence on these four. Alongside Interpol agent Alma Vargas (Melanie Laurent) and with the help of a famous magic debunker (Morgan Freeman) Rhodes must stay one step ahead of these magical thieves in order to find out how they are pulling off these heists.
Despite benefiting from having some of the tricks explained a la Magic’s Biggest Secrets Finally Revealed, much of the magic lacks the sleight of hand you would expect and some of it just makes no sense. The elaborate heists are front and center and what should be bare bones illusions is made incredibly cheap by some of the CGI effects used for some of the bigger illusions. The big trouble with Now You See Me is those big elements are never front and center and ultimately are never fully realized. The plot is also quite absurd and what the intentions of these actual illusionists are tends to jump around for most of the film. This makes Rhodes a very distraught individual who just doesn’t see the illusion believing he can be one step ahead of everyone but as the Horsemen explain to the ignorant Rhodes — a great magician is always one step ahead.
The funny thing is it makes the audience believe they themselves are one step ahead of everyone as well and when you think you have it all figured out a monkey wrench is thrown into the final act that, while surprising, still feels put on. It’s not that it isn’t clever but in hindsight it comes out of nowhere with no real red herrings which are present the rest of the time giving you false assumptions. The actual points that drive the plot also tend to make little sense which is more annoying when you consider how secondary the mostly all star cast is to the actual film. Are they modern day Robin Hoods taking from the rich and giving to the poor? No, apparently they are going through these detailed heists step by step so that they can join a secret society called the Eye, which never really is explained that well.
Eisenberg is at his douchiest harkening back to The Social Network on so many levels, Franco and Fisher are merely background players and Harrelson is the only saving grace being afforded the best one liners of the film much like he was with Eisenberg in Zombieland. For what little screen time he has Michael Caine tries to use the best of it but his contribution to the story is relatively minor and uninteresting. The main focus runs on Mark Ruffalo, Morgan Freeman, and Melanie Laurent who get the majority of the screen time.
Ruffalo in particular plays his usual everyman with a heightened sense of ignorance that is so abrasive and off putting at times. This fits well into the final stages of the film which makes you second guess him later but still 75 percent of the time he just comes off as an often clueless FBI agent. His will-they-won’t-they chemistry with Laurent, who is constantly trying to learn on the same level as these entertainers, feels rather sidebar and not that fascinating. Freeman acts as merely a comforting voice to explain the convoluted plot but only he can do so much to keep the interest there. Overall it’s not that these actors don’t perform well but that they are simply not made to be as interesting or relevant at times.
Now You See Me does nothing to improve the image of the Vegas illusionist but it does a decent job in being a thrilling and fast paced film. Despite its two fisted attempt to trick you when you can clearly see where the mirrors are it does have moments of excitement, fun and humor but rest assured it won’t leave the greatest imprint on your mind by the end of this blockbuster summer.