A magic trick works because of its simplicity. If it wasn’t simple, if it was a lot of razzle dazzle, you wouldn’t accept the trick because you’d be so aware of all the misdirection. Now You See Me attempts to work like a magic trick, complete with “the ending you didn’t see coming!” But it’s so full of red herrings and so “plotty” you just can’t sit back and enjoy the show. The right brain trying to have a good time is overwhelmed by the left brain trying to figure out the whole messy thing.
It’s not a bad movie. With a cast that includes Jesse Eisenberg, Mark Ruffalo, Woody Harrelson (the most criminally underrated actor working today… yeah, I said it!), Isla Fisher, Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine, you’d have to be quite the anti-talent to make a movie that isn’t sort of entertaining. It just feels like a lot of unrealized potential, given the cast and the subject matter. The main problem is the movie doesn’t know on whom to focus.
At times, Now You See Me is about a group of magicians who are summoned to an empty apartment in New York City by a mysterious stranger for some mysterious reason and, one year later, are a collective known as The Four Horsemen. When we first see them performing in Las Vegas, they close their show by teleporting a man into a locked bank vault in France, empty the vault of the money, and make it rain millions in Euros in the theater in Vegas. Needless to say, when The Four Horsemen announce their next engagement, demand for tickets is quite high.
But at other times, the movie is about the detective played by Ruffalo who’s trying to apprehend the Horsemen. And this guy, he’s a hall-of-fame stupid detective. As I was watching, I’m thinking, why would Ruffalo want to play a character this dense? He’s a fine actor; he doesn’t need the money THAT badly, does he? Throw in a mysterious detective from Interpol played by Melanie Laurent, who knows a lot about secret societies of magicians and usually works at a desk but, for this case, is working in the field for the first time….
And let’s not forget Morgan Freeman as the professional debunker of magic who may or may not be working for the Horsemen, and as I was watching, I didn’t who the good guys were or who the bad guys were. That’s okay for some movies, but Now You See Me doesn’t aspire to be some sort of ambiguous treatise on illusion and the lies we tell ourselves and others and whatnot. It’s a summer popcorn movie that wants to be Oceans 11 with magicians. But the director, Louis Leterrier, is so intent to keep us off the trail of his BIG SURPRISE at the end he forgets about the need to keep it simple so we can be absorbed in the trick.
Louis Leterrier is the poor man’s Michael Bay. He has Bay’s compulsion to ALWAYS move the camera and not let a complete sentence be said by anyone without cutting two or three times. And there isn’t any moment where Leterrier probably isn’t thinking, “You know what this scene could use? A crane shot!” That camera is swooping around like a gnat at a picnic on a hot day. If none of the actors ever tried to swat the camera away because it was distracting them during a scene, I admire their discipline.
But what Leterrier lacks is Bay’s sense of staging and his vulgarity. Losing the vulgarity might not be a bad thing (though regardless of how bad some of Bay’s movies may be, they are never boring… probably because you’re shaking your head at Bay’s immaturity and, well, vulgarity.) But Leterrier’s inability to stage an action scene makes it confusing to watch at times; it’s hard to tell where anybody is in relation to anybody else.
So far this summer, the pickings are slim, and Now You See Me is a slightly more than passable way to spend a couple of hours in a theater. I just would have preferred a little more “How’d they do that?” and a little less hocus pocus.Follow @filmbyfelix