Magic is a, pardon the pun, tricky thing to pull off on screen. With movie magic added into the mix, the line between plausibility and implausibility often blurs, especially in the case of stage magic. One must also take into account how much the story relies on the magic itself and how much comes from character interest.
Even with its all-star cast and some fun moments, Louis Letterier’s Now You See Me is a modestly put together trick that reveals itself to be a little underwhelming by the time it’s over.
Four separate magicians — a street performer (Jesse Eisenberg), a mentalist/hypnotist (Woody Harrelson), an escape artist (Isla Fisher) and a trickster thief (Dave Franco) — are called together under mysterious circumstances to perform a trio of shows across the country under the name of the Four Horsemen. After their first act finishes with them robbing a French bank and giving the money to the audience, a haggard detective (Mark Ruffalo) is put on the case to nab them before their grand finale.
Now You See Me is a movie made up of good moments. Most of the magic acts in the movie are portrayed by Letterier in interesting, snappy ways as are the exchanges between our four magicians and the ones between Morgan Freeman and Mark Ruffalo’s characters. The action is shot kinetically, there’s some fun jaunty music from Brian Tyler and the movie goes by at a good clip. All in all, Letterier’s latest is a pretty solid example of going in and having a fun, breezy but forgettable two hours at the movies in the summer.
But with some better care in writing, Now You See Me probably could have stolen the show. Characterization is completely left behind to focus on the magic tricks (some of which also bugged the hell out of me by using bad CGI when the trick could have been done practically).
We are introduced to our four magicians in the very beginning and given the requisite knowledge we need on them and then the focus in them is completely gone. They’re given no new chance to grow and instead the rest of the movie focuses on Mark Ruffalo, which is unfortunate because he’s a poorly written character. We’re barely told anything about him for the entire movie, even in the extended stretches where it’s just him, and in the end when we’re supposed to learn something new, looking back it’s just more obvious he wasn’t fleshed out at all.
Trying to fit in a romantic subplot between him and his Interpol partner wasn’t at all necessary because that too wasn’t paid proper attention.
The dialogue at times verges on being atrocious. In the absence of something good to say characters mostly revert to saying things like “shit” and “now, now, now” over and over. The main four survive on the actors talent at trading barbs but it’s still hard to be invested when most of what people are given to say is banal or just plain bad.
There is a twist in this movie. Shocking I know, but it’s pretty prevalent and comes late in the game. Some have said that it goes way beyond the boundaries of being plausible, which it kind of does. It is the sort of twist that erases a large portion of what we knew before it, so naturally some will take issue with that as well. What helps is that nothing in the entire movie is plausible to begin with, be it the ludicrous plot or the faked magic tricks, so taking it with that mindset helps out quite a bit.
That said, viewing the movie in that mindset puts a bit of distance between you and the action. So look closer: you may think you’re watching the next great magic movie but you’re being distracted. What’s really going on is the use of light and sound to trick you into thinking there’s something more important going on.
Instead, it’s just smoke and mirrors.