Now You See Me screened after WW press deadlines, presumably to make us think it had a trick up its sleeve. But nope—there's nothing there.
Critic's Grade: C
In an early scene in the magic-heist movie Now You See Me
, Jesse Eisenberg’s character gives an audience a piece of advice. “The more you think you see,” he says, “the easier it will be to fool you.” That’s apparently a tip director Louis Leterrier (The Incredible Hulk
, Clash of the Titans
) tried to follow, pulling from his bag of tricks plenty of glitz, a throbbing techno soundtrack and a camera that swirls as if on a merry-go-round and makes viewers just as dizzy. Unfortunately, being fooled by this flashy flick is no fun.
An opening montage introduces us, Ocean’s Eleven-style, to our four magicians: the smartass cardsharp (a fast-talking Eisenberg); the charming but slightly shady mentalist (Woody Harrelson); the sexy escape artist (Isla Fisher, here to look good in miniskirts and do little else); and the streetwise pickpocket (Dave Franco, here to do even less than Fisher). Summoned by an unknown leader and christening themselves the Four Horsemen, they launch a series of heists. Why? We don’t know. It’s unclear if the Horsemen themselves know. At the first show in Las Vegas, a “randomly chosen” audience member teleports to Paris to help the Horsemen rob a French bank, which causes 3.2 million Euros to rain down on the giddy spectators. This raises eyebrows at the FBI and Interpol, who begin trailing these wily illusionists.
For the first 45 minutes or so, the film is goofy entertainment, and the introduction of a few more big-name stars—Michael Caine as the group’s financier and Morgan Freeman as a debunker of magic tricks—holds promise. But when a scene in which Caine’s character threatens Freeman with a ridiculous-looking voodoo doll—a scenario that should be ripe for self-aware fun—lands with a thud, you know you’re in trouble. Indeed, once the Horsemen land in New Orleans for their second big trick, the film flies off the rails and becomes stupid, implausible and, worst of all, boring. “Will the dark mysticism of this Southern swampland get the best of them?” asks Freeman, in one of the flimsy screenplay’s worst clunkers.
The problem is that we don’t care. We don’t know which side to root for, and it’s not even clear who’s good and who’s evil. Ambiguity isn’t a bad thing in cinema, but stripping a film of any meaningful character development leaves audiences adrift and apathetic. For a moment it seems the Horsemen might be Occupy types, modern-day Robin Hoods who seek to return money to those who’ve been screwed over by banks and insurance companies. Yet they’re neither fully developed characters nor symbols of economic justice.
Now You See Me’s other hitch is one that plagues all films about magic, which is that cinema is already an art of illusion. The thrill of magic comes from seeing it live, but in Now You See Me there’s no distinction between computer-generated trickery and human-generated deception. (There’s also a fight, filled with fast-burning flash paper, which looks like a wand duel straight out of Harry Potter.) The film devotes extensive time to explaining how the Horsemen pull off their heists, but the answer isn’t interesting. Throughout, characters proclaim how magic is all about misdirection, about getting the audience to look away from where the real trick is happening. Too bad, then, that with all his interest in distracting the audience, Leterrier has left us nothing else to see.