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Now You See Me

Theatrical Review

Summit Entertainment; 116 minutes

Director: Louis Leterrier

Written by on May 30, 2013 

The closer you look, the less you see. Is it surprising that a slick heist movie like Now You See Me is as dedicated to sleight of hand behind the camera as in front of it? Arriving at a brief but pivotal lull in the summer movie stampede, Louis Leterrier’s tale of street magicians turned subversive thieves has all the earmarks of a flashy illusion designed to dazzle the audience but dissolve like smoke once it’s over. Any magician worth their salt knows the key is distraction, and Now You See Me moves careful and critical viewers away from its structural flaws and crafty twists with a cast who’s having great fun with the premise.

While the marketing makes this twisty-turner adventure out to be a thriller in the Christopher Nolan vein, the truth is that Now is far closer to more playful fare like Steven Soderbergh’s casino caper Oceans Eleven or Neil Burger’s period drama The Illusionist. Enter The Four Horsemen; street hustlers who use their magical craft to infiltrate Vegas and then, on stage, rob their employer of his millions, from a bank located half the world away. They finish the show by raining that same money down on the audience, creating the impression of modern Robin Hoods who use illusion as their weapon of choice.

The Horseman are comprised of mouthpiece Atlas (Jesse Eisenberg), assistant Henley (Isla Fischer), mentalist Merrit (Woody Harrelson) and card master Jack (Dave Franco); all versatile placing themselves in new, constantly shifting configurations. There’s also Michael Caine as the rich fat-cat whose just been fleeced but can’t prove it to the law, Morgan Freeman as the mysterious man of exposition tasked with revealing the Horseman’s secrets, and the dogged team of FBI Agent Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo) and Interpol officer Alma (Mélanie Laurent) who are  always one step behind the bandits.

The appealing aspect of this lot is that enjoyment doesn’t depend on any one individual. Instead they delight us in the ways they bounce off one another and then change course without warning. There’s not quite enough juice in the script by Ed Solomon, Boaz Yakin and Ed Ricourt to power the characters as singular agents, but as the cleverly placed pieces of a larger puzzle, they work as much as intended. This makes for a fun, frivolous evening of entertainment, but the Horsemen’s motto grows frustratingly true. There’s less and less each time you look up, the movie mercifully ending before all the endearing joy has worn off.

As a kid, I was always a fan of stage magic and some of that intrigue remains with me today. On screen, I’ve rarely seen the profession handled with the appropriate amount of innocent wonder and cunning trickster’s glee. Now You See Me comes close enough, but there’s a nagging sense that the conceit has been used to mostly excuse scrutiny to a plot that must depend on misdirection for its power. While The Incredible Burt Wonderstone used its magic set pieces as comedic metaphors for extended adolescence and Desperate Acts of Magic offered its tricks as the hard-earned career currency of dedicated artists, Now You See Me hordes them as the special effects confetti blasted about whenever holes start appearing in the stretched-to-breaking plot.

There’s plenty of good-natured fun to be had with Now You See Me, and Leterrier proves adept at breathlessly pacing his surprises and reveals to coincide with the human interest of his tale. Unlike Clash of the Titans and The Incredible Hulk, which amount to out-of-control effects pictures that rarely slowed for any kind of detail or nuance, NYSM offers the director numerous opportunities to adorn the edges of his film with excess inspiration that can be revealed on return visits. Whether or not you are in admiration of the Horsemen’s ultimate, final trick and the puzzling fallout on its other side, I suspect you will be coerced to consider a second look, even if the chances of seeing more are highly unlikely.

Now You See Me opens in wide release on Friday, May 31st.


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