We review Now You See Me – This cheap trick is all smoke and mirrors with no prestige

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Movie magic isn’t easy. I don’t mean the magic of movies itself, but rather depicting the art of illusion and prestidigitation on the big screen. Thanks to the fact that we can now do just about everything with CGI (even when sometimes we really shouldn’t), it’s just plain difficult to convince audiences that yes, that white dove actually did originate from the talented magician’s hand and not from the mouse and keyboard of some overcaffeinated and underpaid digital artist.

The trick (pardon the pun) is backing it up with a clever story to get the audience to buy in on the gag. Unfortunately for Now You See Me, the new magical crime caper from Louis Letterier, it tries to be too clever with not enough story.

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Now You See Me is the tale of a quartet of stage magicians known as The Four Horseman: The fast talking street magician (Jesse Eisenberg), the attractive escape artist (Isla Fisher), the swindling mentalist (Woody Harrelson), and the conman pickpocket (Dave Franco). I actually couldn’t be bothered to name them properly, because clearly the film’s script by Boaz Yakin, Edward Ricourt and Ed Solomon doesn’t give a rabbit’s ass about them either. They are essentially human shaped MacGuffins, chased down in this case by the mismatched duo of FBI Agent Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo) and Interpol Agent Alma Dray (Melanie Laurent).

The reason for this chase is that for the finale of the Four Horsemen’s first big show in Vegas – a year after the then struggling performers were mysteriously brought together via tarot card invitation to form the magic supergroup – they seemingly did the impossible (and criminal) by having a member of the audience seemingly teleported to his personal bank in Paris, and then returned along with all the money in the bank’s vault now raining down on the ever so grateful Las Vegas crowd.

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The group’s financial benefactor, insurance mogul Arthur Tressler (Michael Caine), loves the hype this generates for their next show, but the FBI, not so much. It seems they’re not too big on the whole “taking 30 million Euros of other people’s money and giving it away” thing. Go figure.

With the reluctant assistance of ex-magician, now professional magic-debunker Thaddeus Bradley (Morgan Freeman, who much like Caine seems to just be here for the paycheck), Rhodes and Dray need to figure out how the Horsemen managed to rob a bank from across the world, and what their endgame is. Also, the pair may find some time for palpable sexual tension in the workplace while they’re at it.

As Rhodes and Dray, Ruffalo and Laurent are the best thing about this movie. Ruffalo’s slovenly world weariness plays off well against Laurent’s more perky sense of wonder at the mythology of this world of magic. As a result of the good chemistry, their burgeoning relationship also doesn’t feel shoehorned in, as is so often the case in these action thriller exploits.

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Speaking of action and thrills… While he may not be that good at subtle, never let Letterier ever be accused of being unable to put together a flashy, action sequence. Feeling like Michael Bay with a slashed explosions budget, these scenes certainly thrill and delight, with a particular action beat involving Dave Franco doing a parkour-ninja-monkey-escape-artist routine to lead Mark Ruffalo on a merry chase being the highlight.

The problem is when you realize that Letterier’s popping pyrotechnics are actually just the beautiful assistant’s generous cleavage and endless legs, there to distract you – and not doing too great a job of it, by the by- from what’s really going on. Which is actually a whole lot of nothing. The script simply faces the same problem as the four main protagonists’ characters: there simply isn’t enough of it. The thinly sketched story is stretched out over a number of overly bombastic sequences, and gets dangerously close to breaking point when the inevitable plot twists start being pulled out of rather threadbare hats.

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When Christopher Nolan revealed the secret of “The Transported Man” in The Prestige, it made you do a double-take at it’s simple, elegantly brilliance, and had you immediately want to reevaluate everything you had just witnessed. When people disappear/escape/[inset magic act of choice here] in Now You See Me, you simply go “Eh. Editing,” and move on. But unconvincing magic tricks is not the film’s biggest crime.

No, that would be the twofold felony of not providing enough of anything besides some up-tempo action punch-ups and Mark Rufallo being Mark Rufallo very well to engage the audience on any level, and in so doing also not living up to the potential of the admittedly fantastic premise – Ocean’s Eleven with magic, damn it! – and the great cast that this film actually had

Movies about magic requires a certain suspension of disbelief from the audience, but unfortunately you’re just more likely to walk out of this one unable to believe how they blew it.

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Last Updated: July 30, 2013

Kervyn Cloete

A man of many passions - but very little sleep - I've been geeking out over movies, video games, comics, books, anime, TV series and lemon meringues as far back as I can remember. So show up for the geeky insight, stay for the delicious pastries.

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