The thing about magic is… well– that it’s not real. Sure, some of it is very entertaining (I highly recommend Penn & Teller: Fool Us, if you’ve never caught an episode), but ultimately it’s just camera tricks, slight of hand, and other foolery designed to make you go, “How’d they do that?”
When witnessed in person or even in a David Blaine-style Discovery Channel show, magic does have a certain level of believability, but all of that goes out the window when magic takes center stage in a feature film.
So much of what we see weekly in the multi-plex is already “magic” (no, the White House didn’t really just blow up, and no, that car didn’t really turn into a robot and start talking) that seeing magic tricks in movies makes them lose all of their “ooh” before they even get going.
And if that were the only problem with Now You See Me (and it’s not), the film would still be a pretty substantial waste of time.
After a “let’s meet the players” prelude, we jump ahead a year and land on a stage in Vegas, where the Four Horsemen (though one is a woman) are performing under the watchful eye of their benefactor Arthur Tressler (Michael Caine). Magician Daniel Atlas (Jesse Eisenberg), escape artist Henley Reeves (Isla Fisher), hypnotist Merritt McKinney (Woody Harrelson), and pick-pocket Jack Wilder (Dave Franco) pull a random gentleman up on stage and teleport him instantly to Paris, where he robs a bank of $3 million.
No, he obviously wasn’t random, and no he didn’t really teleport, but it’s a pretty nifty set-up, huh? Especially when we learn later that the bank really was robbed. Too bad Now You See Me can’t live up to it.
The FBI (in form of Mark Ruffalo) and Interpol (in the form of Melanie Laurent) get involved, as does magic debunker Thaddeus Bradley (Morgan Freeman), but none of them have any clue that the robbery is only the first of three over-the-top illusions with a much larger endgame.
The script by Ed Solomon, Boaz Yakin, and Edward Ricourt is full of misdirection and snazzy illusions, but it’s also a bit of a haphazard mess that can’t seem to make up its mind what it is, where its headed, or how it’s going to get there. And director Louis Letterier (Clash of the Titans), who’s penchant for making loud, big, and ultimately vapid movies is becoming chronic, doesn’t seem to know, either. Are the bad guys good? Are the good guys bad? Should we care, either way?
Except for Ruffalo, who spends the movie running around trying to catch the Horsemen, the cast is generally lifeless, and that’s a pretty mean feat when you’re, in essence, playing David Copperfield and Houdini.
By the time we get to the finale (and its preposterous big twist), all the excitement has been drained, and you’ll realize you’ve just been had.