Now You See Me

© 2013 Ray Wong

Movies about magicians are difficult to do well  (ask Steve Carell). Now You See Me takes a different approach as a suspense/thriller. While it is no The Prestige or even the Illusionist, its entertainment value should keep it in the game for at least a few weeks before the next big thing comes along.

Atlas (Jesse Eisenberg), McKinney (Woody Harrelson), Henley (Isla Fisher) and Jack (Dave Franco) are four small-time magicians who seem to try to say something with their acts. Atlas is by far the most accomplished but he is no superstar, and McKinney is a washed up "mentalist." They are all recruited by a mysterious benefactor who promises them, as a team, a spectacular career.

One year later, that's exactly what happens. Emerging to the Vegas scene as the Four Horsemen and backed by rich businessman Tressler, they magically rob a French bank in front of a grand audience. More interestingly, they give the money to the audience and keep nothing themselves. Their stunt attracts international fame as well as the FBI. Without any proof that they actually robbed the bank, though, FBI agent Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo) can't do anything except to track them down to their next act, hoping to catch them in the act.

Next, the Four Horsemen stage a phenomenal show in New Orleans that not only redistributes Tressler's wealth to a carefully selected audience, but also manage to disappear without being caught. Who is behind them? What exactly are they trying to do? What is the final act (which will be in Manhattan)? And how can Rhodes stay a few steps ahead of them so he can bring them to justice?

For all its slick production and an impressive ensemble cast, it's ironic that the main cast doesn't really have much to do. Jesse Eisenberg (To Rome with Love) plays a slicker, more cynical version of himself as the controlling Atlas. Woody Harrelson (The Hunger Game) smug McKinney who has a moral conscience. Isla Fisher (The Great Gatsby) is sexy as Henley and James Franco's brother Dave (Warm Bodies) is ernest as the most inexperienced magician of them all, Jack.

While the Four Horsemen are the focus of the story, they seem peripheral when compared to the other key players. Mark Ruffalo (The Avengers) is effectively befuddled and frantic as Rhodes. Melanie Laurent (Beginners) is effervescent and likable as Rhodes' unlikely Interpol partner Alma. Morgan Freeman (Oblivion) gets to shed his regal persona to play Bradley, a smug, arrogant ex-magician who makes a killing by revealing other magicians' tricks. And Michael Caine (The Dark Knight Rises) is in fine form playing a smug, arrogant businessman. Michael Kelly (Man of Steel) and Common (Pawn) join the cast as agents Fuller and Evans respectively.

The screenplay by Ed Solomon (Charlie's Angels), Boaz Yakin (Safe) and Edward Ricourt is definitely slick by design. From the first scene to the last, the plot is fast-paced, clipping along with twists and turns only slowing down occasionally to let us get to know the characters a bit. But not too much. In fact, while the plot is slick and engaging, I can't really say the same about the characters. They all seem stereotypical and cookie-cutter. We don't know much about them, and we end up not caring if we know much about them.

While the plot is plausible given the grand illusion that is in store for us, the motivation is really murky.  We understand, at the end, what the real motivation is, but what drive four magicians to commit crimes that could get them imprisoned for a very long time? All for ego? That doesn't make sense and is never completely explained except for some mumble-jumble about The Eye. I guess it's all about the honor and "code" between magicians but I didn't completely buy it.

The production under Louis Leterier's (Crash of the Titans) direction is glossy and slick, if somewhat frantic (please stop the swooping crane shots already -- give me a headache) and out of control at times. Still, for a movie about magic tricks and a recurring theme of "how they did it?" Leterier relies too much on CGI effects, thus the magic tricks appear unauthentic and fake. Of course you can perform any kind of magic tricks if you use CGI, and it's hard for the audience to connect to reality -- how would they actually do it if it was real and not special effects?

Don't get me wrong, Now You See Me is highly engaging and entertaining, and the plot does twist and turn having me wonder where it is going and how it is going to end, and what is the story really about. And the final twist is rather clever -- I didn't see it coming. Still, with all its gloss and fun, it is not something I will remember. Now I've seen it, I doubt I will see it again.

Stars: Jesse Eisenberg, Mark Ruffalo, Woody Harrelson, Isla Fisher, Dave Franco, Melanie Laurent, Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine, Michael Kelly, Common
Director: Louis Leterier
Writers: Ed Solomon, Boaz Yakin, Edward Ricourt
Distributor: Summit
MPAA Rating:  PG-13 for language, some action and sexual content
Running Time: 115 minutes


Script - 7
Performance - 7
Direction - 7
Cinematography - 8
Music/Sound - 7
Editing - 7
Production - 8

Total - 7.4 out of 10.0 

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