Now You See Me
One doesn’t go into a Louis Leterrier movie seeking subtlety and nuance. The director of "Clash of the Titans," "The Hulk," and "The Transporter" doesn’t give you in-depth characterizations or drawn-out set-ups. He gives you flash and zip-bang dazzle, and that’s exactly what you get with his latest directorial effort, "Now You See Me."
The film opens with four short scenes introducing four magicians at work. Michael Atlas (Jesse Eisenberg) is a street magician where sleight-of-hand leads to larger-than-life surprises. Henley (Isla Fisher) is an escape artist whose underground shows attract a loyal following. Jack Wilder (Dave Franco) is a street-thug who uses magic as a deflection to his thieving ways. And Merritt Osbourne (Woody Harrelson) is a mentalist who uses his powers to steal from his unwitting victims.
These four are gathered together by a mysterious hooded figure and called to a single location where they are shown some fantastical blueprints that they don’t understand. Cut to one year later, and these four are a Vegas nightclub act whose final feat of the evening consists of robbing a bank. In Paris.
This puts them on the scent of FBI agent Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo), and an Interpol Agent named Alma (Melanie Laurent), who attempt to prove that these magicians actually carried out the heist. But the group, known as The Four Horseman, has two more "acts" up their sleeves, all pointing to a finale that is expected to blow everyone’s minds. The question is: whom do they work for, and what is the endgame?
For the first two-thirds of the film, "Now You See Me" is a fast-paced and entirely engaging piece of fluff that is fun to watch and keeps you riveted. As the secrets unfold and you try to figure out who is responsible for The Four Horseman’s deeds and what he/she wants, some of the plot starts to unravel and the sleight-of-hand doesn’t quite seem to add up.
For starters, movies about magicians - real magicians - shouldn’t rely on CGI for fancy card moves or tricks that are literally impossible to carry out. For example, during their first show, Henley throws a small black cape around the stage that weaves and swooshes like a magic carpet, ultimately revealing a large metal chamber. It’s supposed to be like a magician’s curtain, but it’s so cartoon-like it just fractures your belief in what they are doing. Even Eisenberg’s fancy card shuffling is CGI’d, so we’re not impressed by him or the tricks.
And speaking of the magicians, as the film opens we get snapshots into some fascinating characters. Yet a third of the way into the film, their characters and character arcs become non-existent, and they end up just as props to the greater story. Merritt clearly has some sort of power over people’s minds, so just how did he get this ability? Is it real or just a deception? Poor Dave Franco (James’ cuter brother) is barely in the film. When he has a big hand-to-hand fight through an apartment building, the action is impressive but we have no idea how he learned to fight like that or what his character is all about. In fact, the audience kind of thinks, "Oh right, he’s in this."
Henley and Michael apparently had a previous relationship of sorts, and it’s mentioned twice, but the plot point is never used to any effect. Any rivalry or camaraderie between the four goes away when Dylan’s quest to find out what these four are doing takes center stage. In the end, there is some sort of "gift" given to the Four Horseman - some sort of knowledge or whatnot, but it’s as obtuse and preternatural as to be Harry Potter-esque.
Despite the many flaws, the ending is kind of a surprise (half the fun is trying to figure out who the "Fifth Horseman" is), and the set pieces, tricks, and action are all supremely entertaining, despite the reliance on computer gimmicks to work the magic. Had the screenwriters (there are three plus two "story by" credits) been able to give us full characters and a clearer ending, it would have been the sleeper hit of the summer. Instead, it’s all flash and dazzle, with little substance. That said, it’s tremendously entertaining regardless, and it’s nice to see a studio releasing some original films into a summer full of superheroes, sequels, and giant robots.