Now You See Me
Now You See Me Directed by: Louis Letterier Cast: Jesse Eisenberg, Mark Ruffalo, Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine, Isla Fisher, Dave Franco, Woody Harrelson Running Time: 1 hr 56 mins Rating: PG-13 Release Date: May 31, 2013
PLOT: An FBI agent (Ruffalo) investigates an elusive magician quartet called The Four Horsemen (Eisenberg, Fisher, Franco, Harrelson) who use their elaborate shows to rob banks.
WHO'S IT FOR? If you like scripts that can keep your attention occupied, but don't mind an underwhelming payoff, then Now You See Me isn't the worst of summer matinee choices. And considering how much my parents enjoyed the Ocean's Eleven movies, I can recommend this magician heist to them without much hesitation.
EXPECTATIONS: I was compelled that this was a movie from Incredible Hulk and Clash of the Titans director Louis Letterier. But most of all, I was intrigued by a log line that seemed irresistible, one that promised the mix of magicians and crime.
Jesse Eisenberg as Atlas: Armed with potentially aggressive post-puberty facial hair and a trademark fast mouth, Eisenberg plays the leader of this magician quartet. Like his sneaky compadres, Atlas lacks much development, outside of the simple title association he's given. Score: 5
Mark Ruffalo as Dylan Rhodes: Always looking sleepy, Ruffalo is a fine fit to play the disheveled patsy. As the cop in pursuit of Atlas and company, Ruffalo is dragged around the script by people who continue to demonstrate that they are smarter than him; he is stuck between the sneakiness of his magician prey, and the snark of Freeman's magic-buster. In numerous sequences in which he chases the Horsemen, Ruffalo continues to be good with self-effacing humor. Score: 6
Morgan Freeman as Thaddeus Bradley: Freeman is essentially the James Randi of the story, but not as sharp or cool. This is yet another miser role for Freeman, of which he is presented to be smarter than others and more collected, while everyone else (especially Ruffalo) runs around him with a distinct lack of comparable composure. Score: 5
Rest of Cast: The center group of magicians are well-cast here, and are able to at least provide a single color or two to characters defined by their special skill more than anything else. Along with this, Michael Caine is an amusing casting choice, given a sharper edge than usual. His presence makes for a couple of decent scenes with his rival played by Freeman. Score: 5
TALKING: With hopes of creating a strong facade of smartness, Now You See Me is heavily sprinkled with wisdom about understanding magic, including, "The closer you look, the less you see." This piece of advice from Eisenberg in the beginning of the movie becomes an unofficial motto for the movie's cleverness, this not-as-tight script easy to unravel with closer examination. However, the strength of Now You See Me is that the film does succeed in pointing audience members in various directions, especially with dialogue that thinks it is providing one answer, when it is really providing another. Score: 6
SIGHTS: The theatrical tricks of the Eisenberg's Horsemen are given a slick cinematic handling by Letterier, who films this story first and foremost like an action movie. The illusions themselves are often surprising to watch unfold, even though they eventually push the bounds of technology too far. A handful of chase scenes bring excitement of their own to the course of events, especially a moment in which Ruffalo is chasing Eisenberg through New Orleans in one extended take. Score: 6
SOUNDS: Like the tricksters in this script, composer Brian Tyler plays with the audience with cues that send an audience in whatever direction the illusion wants. Tyler's score is another device in the movie's aesthetic experience that successfully succeeds in manipulating the audience's perspective as the story continues to unfold. Score: 6
BEST SCENE: The first robbery is exciting to see unfold. Even better? Hearing how it was pulled off.
ENDING: After all of the fancy shenanigans, there's an ending that involves a science fiction moment and a magical carousel. Yeah, it is kind of dumb.
QUESTIONS: How many of these tricks could actually be pulled off in reality?
REWATCHABILITY: After a few months, Now You See Me doesn't sound like a bad idea for a second viewing. The pacing of the film is solid enough, and perhaps seeing it for a second time would even bring to brighter light a small twist or two.
To quote the illustrious magician George Oscar Bluth, "Not tricks, Michael, illusions. Tricks are something a whore does for money." The difference between these two categorizations certainly comes to mind with Now You See Me, a sneaky movie that pulls more tricks than illusions on its audience, but still provides a decent amount of surprises through tricky theatrics. This is a movie that takes the excitement of watching magicians provide surprising entertainment, but takes the "magic" element to a larger, and sillier, level.
Working with the highly compelling concept of magicians as heisting thieves, (instead of regular beings who essentially celebrate the craftiness of a magician, as with Ocean's Eleven), Now You See Me is a caper that throws its mental weight away from the reality that makes magic so impressive. A stretch that has to be accepted by the film's audience or not, sometimes these tricksters aren't magicians, but instead a Robin Hood-esque megabudget organization that even within the film relies on "movie magic" more than actual magic. Most of the stuff pulled off here invites an episode of British series "Penn and Teller: Fool Us," and with benefit to this film experience, such tricks are explained within the story. However, it's the ones that are too theatrical to be explained, or too, too far fetched, that take away from the even more clever fun that could be this unique summer entry.
Now You See Me ain't the twisty mind game that is The Prestige, and it certainly isn't the slick deception of Ocean's Eleven. Though I was on board with this movie through a good chunk, by the end I couldn't help desiring a sharper story, one that dared to show, like for any act of magic, that there is an explanation behind any illusion. After all, part of the excitement behind watching any magic trick is trying to understand the mystery of how it can be pulled off, and also that even the most absurd tricks can be explained with reason. In this case, taking the magic of magic itself to serious levels only makes Now You See Me goofier, the embracing of illogical magic a clear indication that the imagination for this script is limited. Now You See Me has to resort to audience manipulation, turning the whole movie into a trick, as opposed to an intricate, explainable illusion with multiple elements. Instead of obeying the rules that make skilled showmanship so compelling, Now You See Me is like an enticing caper written by folks who take the theatrical tricks of "Criss Angel: Mindfreak" a little too seriously.
FINAL SCORE: 6/10