Mark Reviews Movies

Now You See Me


2 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Louis Leterrier

Cast: Mark Ruffalo, Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Isla Fisher, Dave Franco, Mélanie Laurent, Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine

MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for language, some action and sexual content)

Running Time: 1:56

Release Date: 5/31/13

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Review by Mark Dujsik | June 2, 2013

Now You See Me is all about the game. If it were not, it would be far more willing to focus on the characters who actually possess some interest, but because the movie is, it cannot.  Staying with the four entertainers at the heart of this brisk little caper would mean giving away too much information about how they pull off their bits of thievery under the guise of a trio of stage shows, and we can't know the secret of the trick before it's performed. No, that would also mean the tricks themselves would have to be interesting on their own merits.

They are not, and further, once the secret of the first one is revealed, it becomes fairly clear that the actual process of creating an illusion is far from the concerns of screenwriters Ed Solomon, Boaz Yakin, and Edward Ricourt. The actual trick, in which a seemingly random member of the audience is "teleported" to the vault of a bank in France to place the four magicians' calling card in the pile money that will soon disappear from the bank and reappear in the auditorium, makes sense on a logistical level until the movie takes us even further back to the preparation for the stage show. So much of what happens on stage depends on such elaborate planning that the odds against its success are astronomical.

Thankfully, the screenplay abandons trying to explain its later tricks and simply presents them as they occur and as a group of pretty incompetent federal, international, and private law enforcement agents tries to stay one step ahead of the magicians. They fail every time; they must in order for the magicians' plan to advance.

The result is a narrative without a clear concept of who its protagonist is, and that's because the entire story depends on a smokescreen to hide the true identity of the central character—the one pulling the strings. Even the character's motivation is left to riddles—an event from the past that is much more important than its occasional mentions suggests. The structure requires a lot of patience to see through to the end, and the lack of an actual reason to care about the game and the strange sidelining of the movie's most interesting characters test that patience.

The movie opens with the separate introductions of four magicians, who, at the end of the prologue, come together to form a group called the Four Horsemen. J. Daniel Atlas (Jesse Eisenberg), the showman of the group, is the de facto leader. Merritt McKinney (Woody Harrelson) is a mentalist (a hypnotist and "mind-reader") who uses his talents to con people. Henley Reeves (Isla Fisher) is an escape artist who does the old locked-up-in-a-water-tank trick with a timer counting down until a school of piranhas are dumped into the tank. Jack Wilder (Dave Franco) is a master of sleight of hand who's also a pickpocket.

A year after a mysterious figure in a hooded sweatshirt brings the four together, they—now with the backing of a wealthy benefactor named Arthur Tressler (Michael Caine)—perform the trick of the disappearing money from the bank vault, and FBI agent Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo) is assigned to investigate with the help of Alma Dray (Mélanie Laurent), an Interpol agent, and Thaddeus Bradley (Morgan Freeman), a professional magic debunker. The bank heist is only the Horsemen's first act of a three-city tour, and they promise similar feats of grand larceny.

Thaddeus' role in the investigation is where we come to understand how the Horsemen, who really do just end up standing around talking in cryptic terms about their plan and a secret organization called the Eye in between scenes of jovial rivalry between the stage shows (save for an interrogation scene, which is pretty entertaining, in which Atlas plays mind games with Rhodes, who has no evidence against him or his crew), pull off their thefts. It's difficult to buy into the tricks beyond the coincidences necessary for them to work, and a lot of it comes from McKinney's ability to hypnotize anyone—including mass groups of people for no apparent reason—at will. If most of the reveals feel full of cheats, that element is the biggest cheat of all.

Again, though, the movie does eventually dismiss the ludicrous explanations, although the resulting chases and especially the constant talk of Rhodes suspecting various red herrings do become a bit tedious. One sequence, in which Wilder confronts Rhodes and another agent, finds an enjoyable marriage of the gimmick of criminal magicians and the pursuit; he begins flipping around the room, entangling the partner in his own suit coat, and, in a brief sight that makes no sense after the briefest thought but is pretty neat in the moment, grabs burning cinders out of a fireplace and begins hurling fireballs at Rhodes.

Otherwise, the movie really suffers from an identity crisis, and it's not until the final reveal, which is simultaneously a genuine surprise and cheat, that we have any real understanding of what the point of anything that has happened beforehand is. At one point, Now You See Me shows how the trick of a disappearing rabbit in a box works, using a mirror to conceal the animal. The movie is like that, except there's actually no rabbit there.

Copyright © 2013 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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