Movie review: Now You See Me
Magic acts are great to watch at live shows, but they become little more than camera tricks and movie edits when shown on the big screen. Recognising that problem, French director Louis Leterrier (Transporter 1 & 2, Incredible Hulk) raises the stakes and makes the magic acts in Now You See Me bigger, slicker and flashier. And it works, more or less. The movie entertains and amuses, but only if you are willing to play along and refrain from asking too many questions. The tagline sums it up well: The closer you look, the less you see.
The movie opens with the recruitment of four street magicians, each with a talent that earns them more fame in the underworld than fortune in the real one. The quartet, called the “Four Horsemen”, comprises an illusionist (Jesse Eisenberg), an escape artist (Isla Fisher), a hypnotist (Woody Harrelson) and a petty thief (Dave Franco, James’ brother). Bankrolled by a benefactor (Michael Caine), the foursome gives one-night-only magic shows in Las Vegas, New Orleans and New York. But their acts are more than what meets the eye. With the help of a mysterious mastermind working behind the scenes, millions are stolen from the rich and given to the poor at the end of every performance. The Horsemen are the Merry Men of Sherwood Forest without the green tights. The question becomes: who is Robin Hood and why is he or she doing it?
The Horsemen’s dubiously heroic, but definitely illegal, acts get the attention of the law. FBI Agent (Mark Ruffalo) and Interpol rookie (Mélanie Laurent) are the transatlantic odd couple assigned to pursue Ocean’s Four. Or should I say Ocean’s Five? Like the NYPD detective played by Denis Leary in The Thomas Crown Affair, the police in Now You See Me is constantly one step behind the outlaws. Thanks to a professional debunker (Morgan Freeman) enlisted by the FBI, each magic trick is explained even though the explanations always come too late. In the final twist that recalls the last ten minutes of The Usual Suspects, the Fifth Horseman reveals himself or herself and comes clean with the motive behind the elaborate scheme.
Mark Ruffalo portrays a frustrated cop with his trademark understated finesse. He is gruff, self-deprecating and very likeable. Mélanie Laurent, best known for playing a Jewish cinema owner in Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds, exudes the charm of a gritty Parisienne. Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine reunite after Batman: The Dark Knight Rises, each playing a part they know so well. The four supporting actors – Jesse Eisenberg, Isla Fisher, Woody Harrelson and Dave Franco – fit their respective roles like a glove. Problem is, the director never stays with any of them long enough for the audience to get to know them. We can't even remember any of the characters' names by the end of the two-hour movie.
Now You See Me is a very solid B movie. It succeeds because the ensemble cast works well as a team and the larger-than-life set pieces are truly eye-popping. The movie never takes itself too seriously and so you can sit back and let it take you on a magic carpet ride. But it falls short of a worthy addition to the heist canon. Character development is skin-deep and the big revelation at the end is neither clever nor rewarding. Rather than tying all the loose ends together, the finale leaves the audience feeling somewhat cheated. This is a film you want to watch on a long-haul flight. It will keep you entertained long enough to finish the in-flight meal, before you slowly fall asleep trying to work through all the plot holes and illogic.