Director: Louis Leterrier
Writer: Ed Solomon, Boaz Yakin, Edward Ricourt
Stars: Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Mark Ruffalo, Morgan Freeman
Release date: May 31st, 2013
Distributors: Summit Entertainment, Lionsgate
Countries: USA, France
Running time: 115 minutes
Best part: The A-list cast.
Worst part: The convoluted plot.
Magic is a lost and polarising art form. Culturally preconceived as a hobby taken up by lonely, nerdy individuals, magic, like all other art forms, can be lauded when done perfectly and with panache. Las Vegas is known to be a hotspot for talented tricksters and cunning performers. It’s a form of entertainment that was bound to be brought to the big screen sooner or later. Now You See Me may attract youngsters to magic, but adults will, most likely, see through the illusion and debunk its many zany and bafflingly stupid tricks. Despite the starry cast and slick visuals, this is one magic trick that is all set-up and no payoff.
It’s a silly, monotonous, and imbalanced action flick that doesn’t live up to its intriguing premise. Unfortunately, the cynical aura the trailers gave off is ever present throughout the movie. This type of Hollywood spectacle is reserved for families and friends who don’t want to think too hard about what they’re watching. Thankfully, the movie starts out simply and effectively. We are introduced to four talented yet snarky illusionists striving to become strong parts of the magician community. The magicians – J. Daniel Atlas (Jesse Eisenberg), Merritt McKinney (Woody Harrelson), Henley Reeves (Isla Fisher), and Jack Wilder (Dave Franco) – are mysteriously summoned to an abandoned apartment by an anonymous benefactor. One year later, the four of them hit the Las Vegas casino strip and form a wondrous magic show. Labelling their act ‘The Four Horsemen’, their continuously sold out shows involve the plucky magicians robbing millions of dollars from banks and distributing the money into the crowd. After a French bank is robbed during a frenzying performance, The FBI, primarily represented by agent Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo), and Interpol, represented by agent Alma Dray (Melanie Laurent), are quick to jump on the case. However, the FBI will also have to deal with professional magic trick debunker Thaddeus Bradley (Morgan Freeman) and insurance magnate Arthur Tressler (Michael Caine).
Now You See Me is The Usual Suspects without the ambition, a compelling story, and believable characters. This disappointing movie proves just how strange 2013’s Hollywood blockbuster season has been. This year, in particular, has showcased many risky projects handled by extraordinarily talented people. The world of magic and Hollywood entertainment, if you go by this movie’s entertaining premise, are entirely similar. However, Now You See Me is as cliched, lifeless, and forgettable as the good ol’ ‘Hat-Trick’ (you know, the rabbit one). After being introduced to the four magician characters in a breezy first few minutes, the movie starts to slowly but assuredly unravel. From the eerie meeting scene onward, the movie is bogged-down by exposition, annoyingly cheesy anecdotes, characters used as plot devices, and bumbling comic reliefs. Make no mistake; this is certainly a ‘studio’ movie. It contains a plot that can’t decide what it wants to do or where it wants to go. Many scenes treat us to useless, corny dialogue that serves only to forcefully move the convoluted and exhaustive narrative along. However, the first third is intriguing and punchy. Combining some imaginative scenes (including a surprisingly entertaining hologram-based induction for the four magicians) with the hilarious comedic moments, this movie had the potential to be something magical (zing!). Unfortunately, the movie skids off the rails when the FBI and Interpol are brought in, and then spectacularly crashes in the final third.
Despite containing a few hysterical moments, including a pulsating and kooky interrogation scene in which the four magicians toy with agent Rhodes (“The first rule of magic: Always be the smartest guy in the room” is a cracking line), the movie’s cat-and-mouse chase story becomes exasperating and inconsistent. The focus inexplicably switches from the four exciting magicians to Rhodes, Dray, and Bradley. Thanks to this sudden shift, the pace and tone are distorted. The movie works well when it’s at its absolute quirkiest. The enjoyable back-and-forth dialogue, shared between the likeable Robin Hood-esque characters, establishes the light-heartedness this hyper-kinetic movie needed throughout. The movie is also sorely affected by the flashy direction. Unlike Christopher Nolan’s masterful direction in The Prestige, Director Louis Leterrier (The Tansporter 2, The Incredible Hulk) tries to liven up each scene with his overbearingly obvious flair and sleight of hand tricks. With quick cuts and swishing camera movements, Leterrier makes it difficult to comprehend the crime-caper story, entertaining magic tricks, and inventive action set-pieces. Leterrier’s style wavers between insistent and bland – unable to capture the vibe of stimulating crime-capers like Ocean’s 11 and The Sting. It doesn’t help that Now You See Me‘s CGI overload removes awe and tension from the intriguing narrative. However, the fist-fights and car chases are masterfully handled. In one enlightening scene, Wilder uses magician’s props to stop agent Rhodes in his tracks – making for a well-choreographed and zippy set-piece.
“First rule of magic: always be the smartest guy in the room.” (J. Daniel Atlas (Mark Ruffalo), Now You See Me).
Like a magician’s prop, character motivations and plausible decisions immediately disappear before your eyes. We are uninformed of the Four Horseman’s ambitions, Rhodes’ wavering motivations or why Dray is interested in this case at all. Also, the bumbling FBI squad makes more stupid decisions and unintentionally laughable blunders than Wile E. Coyote. However, the A-list international cast saves this movie from becoming a completely forgettable and mindless mess. The array of likeable and talented stars brings life and zippiness to the strange and two dimensional characters. In the first third, Eisenberg and Harrelson bring back the snappy rapport they developed in Zombieland. The immaculate chemistry between the Four Horsemen may help you to overlook the sheer implausibility of their expansive on-stage magic tricks and elaborate Italian Job-esque heist. Eisenberg, Harrelson, Fisher, and Franco, despite their ubiquity, are forever enjoyable screen presences. Harrelson and Fisher’s comedic notes hit and stick when needed. Ruffalo is a charismatic force as the bumbling FBI agent. Despite having to carry an underdeveloped sub-plot, he brings levity to his generic role. Freeman and Caine, despite their electrifying chemistry and effortless charm, seem to be phoning it in, whilst Laurent seems weirdly out of place compared to the wacky characters on display.
Despite the zany comedic moments and enthralling cast, Now You See Me becomes a tangled mess due to its convoluted plot, preposterous plot twists, and baffling characters. Unable to decide whether it wants to be quirky or earnest, the movie lumbers toward its inexcusable conclusion. It may lead you up one path whilst distracting you from another, but the journey is still tedious and inconsistent.