Louis Leterrier’s first film since Clash Of The Titans plays as a fun but shallow heist movie where magic meets charitable crime and the house always wins. Now You See Me will surely remind viewers of the Ocean’s Eleven franchise, where the criminals are so talented they’re admirable, and one cannot help but root for the bad guys (who are really just good guys with a lot to prove). However Leterrier’s sixth feature film relies so heavily on the flashiness of a great show that the characters become props whose motives and storylines disappear amidst all the smoke and mirrors of the movie.
The first magician we meet is J. Daniel Atlas (Jesse Eisenberg), who immediately sets the fast-paced tone for the movie. Isla Fisher, Woody Harrelson and Dave Franco round out the other magicians, each with their own specialties and accompanying quirks. Seemingly overnight, they find fame after being brought together by an anonymous person or group that functions as a magician’s deity of sorts. Without fully understanding why, they must follow a set of instructions that will guide them (they hope) to something wonderful and unknown—a magician’s Mecca. Now You See Me follows their wild performances and Robin Hood-type antics as the world-renowned Four Horsemen, who soon find themselves in deep with the FBI, led by Mark Ruffalo’s character, agent Dylan Rhodes.
The film is well cast, with strong performances from the aforementioned actors as well as Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman. Ruffalo’s performance initially seems over-the-top and often plays like the cliché, oafish detective who just cannot get it right, but his schtick becomes more acceptable as the plot unfolds. It helps that he is given a more demure and optimistic sidekick (Mélanie Laurent) who fully believes in the power and danger of magic, which works in perfect contrast against his everything-has-a-logical-explanation approach. It is, however, unfortunate that Laurent’s character sometimes functions more as a Parisian sex symbol than a legitimate character (similar arguments could be made about Fisher’s role).
Although the entertainment factor is truly exciting (and you’ve got Morgan Freeman rocking gold earrings and playing the bad-boy magic debunker), there are a few major problems with Now You See Me. For one, it becomes extremely predictable about mid-way through. The audience learns too quickly one of the pivotal rules of magic—simply, nothing is what it seems. Any initial outcome at the close of a scene is not to be trusted, and because nearly every scene has a surprise or twist ending, there are no real surprises and no real twist ending in the one type of movie where there should be. Instead of waiting on the edge of their seats, viewers will find themselves anticipating the inevitable twist and will, therefore, be wholly unsurprised when it is unveiled.
Indeed, there is a storyline in Now You See Me that attempts to go beyond the sensational cat-and-mouse game that drives the plot—one that attempts to give real substance to the film. Unfortunately, much of that stuff comes too little, too late and feels awkward amidst all of the stage tricks. It must be said that the tricks, tropes, and performative aspects of the piece are exciting enough to keep audiences entertained, even if a more compelling narrative is never revealed.
Director: Louis Leterrier
Writer: Ed Solomon, Boaz Yakin, Edward Ricourt
Starring: Jesse Eisenberg, Mark Ruffalo, Woody Harrelson, Isla Fisher, Morgan Freeman, David Franco, Michael Caine
Release Date: May 31, 2013