Magic is a fascinating art, even if it is one of those things that I can go years without thinking about. And I do mean art, much in the same vein of lock-picking and thievery. It takes a particular set of skills to be able to deceive an entire room of people into believing something is complex when in fact it is simple. That is why when someone reveals the big secret, it’s rather disappointing. Let the mice in our cerebellum quickly churn complexities when a slow pace is all that’s required. I believe that was the purpose behind Leterrier’s Now You See Me. But like many ideas presented in this film, they are left muddled and ambiguous.
Four magicians, one a mentalist (Woody Harrelson), one a con man (Dave Franco), one a traditionalist (Jess Eisenberg), and his former assistant/former love interest (Isla Fisher), are all struggling to make ends meet when out of nowhere the four are given tarot cards with invitations to a mysterious apartment. Fast forward a little bit and the four are performing under the title of The Four Horsemen in Las Vegas, where their first act is robbing a bank in Paris.
Obviously this sort of act doesn’t go unnoticed by the public, which transform The Four Horsemen into overnight celebrities. It also attracts the attention of others, like the FBI (Mark Ruffalo), Interpol (Mélanie Laurent), and someone named Thaddeus (Morgan Freeman) who 1) likes to debunk magic acts, and 2) is probably a downer at a party. And with each show the Four Horsemen perform, the more the stakes are raised.
The biggest pitfall out of the numerous that are in Now You See Me is that it tries to be too clever. It tries so desperately to be a magical version of one of Soderbergh’s Oceans films but with a thinner script. And for a film that is about magic, it relies heavily on CGI. So heavily that at many times it’s distracting. And if you’re going to make a movie about magic, it almost feels lazy to use CGI.
There is nothing to glue your interest to the story, or the characters for that matter. There is actually a moment about 3/4th of the way through the film in which one of the Four Horsemen die (for those who don’t want spoilers, I’ll keep the identity of the character secret). And as you sit watching his corpse burn (Whoops, narrowed it down to three), you just don’t really care. You just think, “Oh, bloody hell, that must be a really horrible way to die”. You don’t care. The people in the movie don’t care. It just adds cheap drama zest to a bland film.
The cast is about just as effective as the script. The only one who is in top form is Woody Harrelson, who bring the few genuine laughs in the film. Well, Sir Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman are in top form too, but that’s not unexpected. But the rest, sadly, are below par. Ruffalo and Laurent are unconvincing as agents falling in love. Eisenberg is still in Zuckerberg mode here. Franco is still annoying, like the guy who plays guitar at a party. And Fisher was just an unnecessary addition to the film.
But this film will draw crowds and sadly they’ll like it. The brainless row of people in front of me figuratively had their minds “blown” by how “clever” the film is. And I assume if you go into this film in a zombie state, this would be a pretty damn clever film. But any form of consciousness above this, and you only have pretentious predictability.
Verdict: Skip it!
* Rated PG-13 language, some action, and sexual content. 115 minutes. Directed by Louis Leterrier (The Incredible Hulk, The Transporter).
** Thanks to my friend Cody for seeing this with me.