Now You See Me (Summit Entertainment, PG-13)

nowyousee 75That surprisingly promising plot, this very promising cast—who cares if this is a Louis Leterrier film? Right?

 

nowyousee 500 

Crappy action director Louis Leterrier, of Clash of the Titans and the first two Transporter movies notoriety, has a new movie out! Hooray. Actually, you can see even from the commercials that it’s his most thoughtful movie thus far—not that that’s saying much. It’s called Now You See Me, and is about a team of magicians called the Four Horsemen, who, in the process of their live-on-stage magic act, rob banks and rich men at remote locations for real, and for the crowd’s entertainment. What’s more, they seem to have a classical Robin Hood element working for them, where they steal only from the rich and give to people more deserving. The FBI are on their trail but are having a hard time making a case against them, as it appears that they are using real magic to pull of these feats of robbery.

This premise actually sounds kind of okay, right? And take a look at the cast! The Four Horsemen are Jesse Eisenberg as Daniel Atlas, with Eisenberg here again typecast as the genius kid (a role at which he’s incidentally very good); Woody Harrelson as mentalist Merritt McKinney, whose morals are kind of questionable and whom everyone is a little afraid of letting into their heads (where the other magicians don’t seem to want to take one another too seriously); Isla Fisher as Henley Reeves, who is an escape artist or something, but is probably only there to throw a pretty girl in the mix (try to keep yourself from making “a trick is what a whore does for money” jokes in your head during this movie, which Fisher invites be her mere presence in this and the newly released episodes of Arrested Development); and Dave Franco as Jack Wilder, who, like Merritt, seems to have flimsy morals, and who is good at picking locks and pickpocketing people. 

Outside of the Four Horseman, Mark Ruffalo plays FBI agent Dylan Rhodes, who is partnered up with Mélanie Laurent (whom you know from Inglourious Basterds and Beginners, both of which films she was excellent in), a French Interpol agent who comes on the scene because the bank the Four Horseman rob is a French one. Michael Caine is Arthur Tressler, the Four Horseman’s rich boss, and Morgan Freeman is Thaddeus Bradley, a semi-retired magician who makes his current living exposing other magicians’ magic acts. So, that surprisingly promising plot, this very promising cast—who cares if this is a Louis Leterrier film? Seems like it’s worth giving it a shot, right?

For better or worse, Now You See Me is probably what you’re expecting based on the above description. That is to say, it’s a fair amount of fun to watch. I don’t mean to advise against seeing it, necessarily, but it is very poorly directed and does not remotely hold up to scrutiny. The dialogue is wooden and the big payoff the movie is obviously gunning for is unsatisfying and too pleased with itself. Most of the actors—though generally reliably good elsewhere—here are not very good (with Woody Harrelson being the biggest exception; he appears to be having quite a bit of fun). And, perhaps least surprisingly, there are too many unnecessary action sequences, all of which are dopey and not remotely exciting, interesting, or necessary.

About the best way I can think to put it is to compare this movie to a fairly obvious selection, Christopher Nolan’s 2006 film The Prestige, which is another film about magic that was engrossing while you watched it, but didn’t hold together well when you mentally picked it apart afterward. The big difference here is that Chris Nolan is an exponentially more talented director than Louis Leterrier is. That is to say, there’s fun to be had in both films, neither are as good as I wanted them to be, but at least The Prestige has technical merit to help prop up its deficiencies; Now You See Me does not. | Pete Timmermann

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