Now You See Me gives away most of the wonder of the magic in the film by employing the help of flashy CGI gimmickry, bright lights, roundabout camera tricks and a number of predictable twists.
One of coolest things about magic is the ability to capture the imaginations of audiences who are required to engage in a certain suspension of disbelief. There is a sense of wonder as the coin or card reappears suddenly, seemingly from nowhere. “How did they do that?” is the most common reaction. Whatsmore, when you see a magician do something amazing in a live show, you know that it’s all just a glamorous trick, a polished illusion. What should be a smart sleight of hand crime caper spins out of control into the Michael Bay version of The Prestige.
J. Daniel Atlas: The closer you think you are, the less you’ll actually see.
The complicated plot revolves around four professional magicians (an arrogant magician (Jesse Eisenberg), an escape artist (Isla Fisher), a pickpocket (Dave Franco) and a hypnotist/mentalist (Woody Harrelson)) who join forces to stage the world’s biggest magic show, sponsored by a rich investor (Michael Caine). For the final trick, while on stage, they rob a bank in France, leaving the FBI and the unsuspecting bankers dumbfounded. Tough cop Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo) is called in to investigate. Together with the help of an INTERPOL agent (Melanie Laurent) and a professional magic debunker (Morgan Freeman), the three set out to capture the gang, who call decide to call themselves The Four Horsemen.
Merritt McKinney: [hypnotizing a cheating husband] Anytime you think of Janet you’re going to see me naked, that’s not a pretty sight!
Anybody who ventures into making a film about magic is aware of the possible comparisons to Christopher Nolan’s The Prestige. Louis Leterrier certainly was. As a result, he overcompensates every magic trick with unbelievable computer imagery. Magician’s levitate and do masterful acts, but every single one can be concluded as simple VFX. But a movie about magic without magic is the least of its problems.
Now You See Me squanders a great cast and what should have been a great premise. It seems everyone is playing the same character, with different talents. Every character is paper thin and every character could easily be shrugged off as the arrogant type. Surely, an ensemble cast that includes the likes of Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman could offer characters a little deeper than that. Dave Franco’s Jack Wilder, the least explored character in the film, offers the most excitement during a faceoff with the FBI, using magic (throwing cards, using mirror illusions and sleight of hand) to overpower them.
J. Daniel Atlas: I did *not* see that coming.
Now You See Me constantly taunts its audience during the film and its trailers with lines like “The closer you think you are, the less you’ll actually see” and expects them to be surprised that there is a twisty ending. Nevertheless, there are a number of clever set pieces here and there. There is enough entertainment to get you through the 115 minutes, but barely. It’s a decent idea in the hands of the wrong people.