Synopsis: An FBI agent and an Interpol detective track a team of illusionists who pull off bank heists during their performances and reward their audiences with the money.
Stars: Jesse Eisenberg, Isla Fisher, Morgan Freeman, Woody Harrelson, Mark Ruffalo, Michael Caine, Common, Mélanie Laurent, Dave Franco
Director: Louis Leterrier
Running Length: 105 minutes
Trailer Review: Here
TMMM Score: (4/10)
Review: Back in November when I reviewed the trailer for Now You See Me, I mentioned how difficult it was for films about magic to really draw movie audiences in because seeing disappear on screen is much less interesting than being dazzled in a live environment. Well it turns out that drawing the audience in is the least of the troubles the film is saddled with because the movie itself is too lame brained for words. While not as big of a loser as The Incredible Burt Wonderstone, it’s a bummer of a summer flick that does its best to distract you with smoke and mirrors but ultimately can’t disguise the fact that it’s a second rate act with no impressive finale.
The film has a fairly solid opening as we are introduced to four illusionists that are brought together to form the Four Horsemen. Though all four seem to know each other, there’s not a lot of back-story offered up so we’re just supposed to accept that everyone is aware that the others are equally smart tricksters. Soon the Four Horsemen are doing a show at the MGM Grand and in performing one masterful trick that’s tied to a bank heist they catch the attention of the FBI (Mark Ruffalo, Marvel’s The Avengers), Interpol (Mélanie Laurent), and a sly former magician (Morgan Freeman, Oblivion) now more interested in pulling back the curtain on other magic acts.
Like most magic tricks, the film becomes less interesting the more that things are explained. Aside from the swift opening, much of the film feels deliberately manipulative to continue to support the overblown set-up. Some of the magic is revealed in ways that are easy to accept but too much of the tricks on display have no basis in reality. Had the movie employed more of a sci-fi/alternate reality aspect to it like Looper it may have made the more eye-rolling moments easier to digest.
Part of the problem is that there are just too many cooks in the script kitchen. Boasting a remarkable five (FIVE!) screenwriters, the movie feels like a heavy bowl of stone soup with multiple people contributing to the pot. I’ve mentioned the curious (but obviously intentional) lack of back-story but also offered up for evidence are large gaps of time and information that simply aren’t accounted for. The script so clearly wants to keep us in the dark that it becomes frustrating to watch. The best films with twists and turns handle their misdirection with a proper plan for revealing the man behind the curtain but it’s patently clear that no such pre-planning was done here.
The finale of the film feels like the fourth or fifth one that was shot. It comes out of nowhere and feels like one screenwriter was mailed the outline of ¾ of a script and told to write the rest without consulting with anyone else. It also cheats the audience by asking us to accept s certain fact without referring back to what we already know is true. This is not the way to make a satisfying caper film and audiences that are paying good money to see the film deserve better.
Assembling an interesting array of actors is probably the best trick that the film achieves though not everyone is quite as successful. I’m officially over Jesse Eisenberg as he turns in his umpteenth version of the same character – a cocky annoyance that fancies himself an elevated David Copperfield. Also on the low end is Isla Fisher, normally put to good use but who is strangely out of place and out of a consistent American accent. And why her character wears these tiny motorcycle gloves for the whole film may be the biggest mystery of all…dry skin, maybe?
Harrelson, Caine, and Freeman are their dependable selves but it’s Ruffalo and French star Laurent that are the most interesting people to watch. I wasn’t too keen on Laurent as the movie opened but Ruffalo is a good cinematic partner that can make his co-stars shine. Though Ruffalo winds up being shorted as the film progresses, he soldiers forth gamely — though he must have been asking himself, “I went from playing The Incredible Hulk to this?”
Speaking of The Hulk, Now You See Me is directed by Louis Leterrier who was in the director’s seat for the 2008 failed reboot of The Incredible Hulk with Edward Norton. Leterrier brings the same energy he brought to that film and two Transporter films by keeping the camera in constant motion with little reprieve for the audience. Though the camera work is not hand-held, it’s a whirling dervish of movement that could send weak stomached audience members on a queasy adventure to the lavatory.
Though some of Now You See Me is interesting in passing, it’s not worth your time and money in a busy summer movie season. Even on Redbox or Netflix the film would only be a middling choice for the savvy movie-goer. Now You See Me…you shouldn’t.