Now You See Me (2013) / Thriller-Mystery
MPAA rated: PG-13 for language, some violence and sexual content
Running time: 115 min.
Cast: Jesse Eisenberg, Mark Ruffalo, Isla Fisher, Woody Harrelson, Morgan Freeman, Dave Franco, Michael Caine, Melanie Laurent, Michael J. Kelly, Common, David Warshofsky
Cameo: Conan O'Brien, Elias Koteas
Director: Louis Leterrier
Screenplay: Ed Solomon, Boaz Yakin, Ed Ricourt
Review published June 2, 2013
Four of the world's most popular illusionists -- slight-of-hand trickster J. Daniel Atlas (Eisenberg, To Rome with Love), escape artist Henley Reeves (Fisher, Definitely Maybe), hypnotist/mentalist Merritt McKinney (Harrelson, Game Change), and sneak-thief Jack Wilder (Franco, Warm Bodies) -- put on huge Vegas-caliber shows as the 'Four Horsemen' after they've been called together by a mysterious, unseen organization. The key to their popularity is that they're actually pulling off major heists, while also enriching the audience members in attendance for reasons that aren't completely clear, while leaving behind no evidence that can convict them. Nevertheless, the FBI is on their trail in the form of Agent Dylan Rhodes (Ruffalo, The Avengers), who is collaborating with Interpol's Alma Dray (Laurent, Beginners) in sniffing out just what's going on, while world-class debunker Thaddeus Bradley (Freeman, Oblivion) is determined to out the quartet's best tricks to the public they've become heroes to.
Directed by action-movie vet Louis Leterrier (The Incredible Hulk, Transporter 2), Now You See Me is a film so slickly made that some audience members will likely forgive the copious amounts of improbability (and impossibility) in exchange for the theatrics of the sights and sounds on display within. Written without much in terms of legitimate explanation from the not-as-clever-as-you'd-think script by the team of Solomon (The In-Laws, Charlie's Angels), Yakin (Prince of Persia, The Rookie), and Ricourt, the amount of razzle-dazzle is high and the amount of expository information is at a minimum, explaining only a few minor illusions on the hope that we'll buy that there is a logical explanation for all of the other jaw-dropping moments we aren't in the know on.
It's the kind of movie that can only be admired for its showmanship and presentation, rather than on its believability, and along these lines, Leterrier keeps the hi-tech eye-candy light and mirror displays dazzling, the sweeps and swoops of the camera simpatico with the mesmerizing music, and the action from scene to scene moving almost brisk enough to avoid enraging us from its perpetually smug attitude toward its audience. It's a watchable experience, but if you're at all bothered by leaps of logic, you'll likely have pulled out all of your hair in frustration long before the final fade-out. Some of the illusions are just downright unexplainable (I'm still scratching my head from the sight of Henley riding above audiences while floating inside a giant soap bubble), as are the methods and means to carry out the main premise (Oh, brother!), once the motives are revealed.
With a likeable, highly popular cast of credible thespians, Now You See Me isn't really an acting showcase so much as a personality-driven piece of fluff, meant to distract you just enough to not care that it's a great big nothing at its core, even with its underlying dubiously philanthropic notion of snagging from banks and bigwigs to give to those who've been bilked. None of the characters is fleshed out beyond what's necessary for the plot at hand, as we get the sense that not a single one of them has even a shred of a personal life, family or friendships other than as vessels inhabiting their current occupations.
Unlike David Fincher's The Game, which featured an equal amount of absurd and implausible contrivances to get from point A to point Z, Leterrier's film lacks the thematic resonance to transcend the experience to become something of substance. Like the Las Vegas stage-show illusionist acts that inspired this film, it's more about the spectacle and pageantry than the trick itself, entertaining with an arrogant, smirk-fueled panache meant solely to keep you staring at smoke and sparkly things just enough to keep you misdirected from thinking too long about its intricacies, or lack thereof. The title comes from the old illusionist saying, "Now you see it, now you don't," and like the object that is there one moment and gone the next, so is the fleeting memory of Now You See Me.
©2013 Vince Leo