Now You See Me
Is this your card?
Oh. It isn’t?
For a movie about sly street muggers performing supposedly death-defying stunts, Louis Leterrier’s Now You See Me doesn’t play very smoothly. You may not believe your eyes when the star-studded cast and gripping story premise fail to deliver a memorable show. Or who knows, maybe you will. “The closer you are, the less you see,” Jesse Eisenberg casually mentions about a dozen times throughout the film. Maybe it’s best to squeeze in close for this one.
Cast aside, the best thing about the film is its mostly intriguing story. Four talented street-level magicians (Eisenberg as an illusionist, Isla Fisher as a daring escape artist, Dave Franco as a pickpocket, and Woody Harrelson as an intrusive mentalist) are selected by an anonymous gray hoodie’d mastermind to perform some of the world’s greatest magic as the Four Horsemen (which, if you ask me, is a #super cool name). One year after tricking tourists into paying their rent, the Horsemen are snagging millions of dollars from international banks in front of massive live audiences, drawing the attention of both adoring fans and the FBI.
When Agent Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo) and Interpol Agent Alma Vargas (Melanie Laurent) begin to investigate the magic, they realize the Horsemen plan to use their tricks for more than just entertainment purposes. Professional magician buster Thaddeus Bradley (Morgan Freeman) confirms Rhodes’ suspicions, only to further his own agenda as the three conflicting forces clash in a flurry of sparks and endless handkerchiefs.
Perhaps the film’s greatest trick is taking the action-packed premise and making the excitement disappear. The film’s main attraction – the Four Horsemen’s grand magic shows – play with an underwhelming coolness that should have been the film’s pinnacle of excitement, but instead act as mandatory checkpoints for the story. The film was most exciting when the Horsemen used magic outside of their designated performance hours (Eisenberg’s character David Atlas flicks his locked handcuffs onto a blundering Rhodes, and Franco creatively hides behind a curtain, which looks much cooler than it sounds). Anticipating not being able to believe your eyes turns the eye into a see-all skeptic. (Knowing Freeman’s character will inevitably explain exactly how each trick was performed in the following scene didn’t help, either.)
Thankfully the cast pulls the rabbit out the hat and keeps the film from bogging into unwatchable territory. Eisenberg transitions seamlessly from his typical squeaky persona to a weasely quick-witted crook, but maintains his aura of formidable snarkyness. Baby Franco is becoming a fully-fledged actor before our very eyes with each movie, and maybe after seeing his action scenes in this film, someone will get him a role more prominent than a backup banana. Perhaps it was best for this film though; he shared the screen with many other flashy talents, all of whom received their fair amount of screen time.
Props to Eisenberg for accurately predicting the card I saw in his opening scene shuffle. Without missing a beat he plucked it from the deck and the card’s face flashed across a nearby building in blinking red lights. For a moment I thought I should be impressed, but it’s hard for such a stunt to be impressive when camera and directorial manipulation were obviously afoot. Movie making magic is stronger than street performance magic, and is apparently strong enough to make the latter’s charm disappear.