Louis Leterrier’s Now You See Me is a big-budget ($70 million estimated by IMDB) caper film with a cast of major Hollywood names and just the hint of a theme. Like previous Leterrier flicks (Clash of the Titans 2010, Transporter, etc.), this one features brilliant effects, non-stop action, and a straightforward story.
Sure, there’s a “hidden” throughline; yes, there’s a switcheroo, and of course there’s a major chase scene. Everything about Now You See Me goes down according to plan. All this hot action comes with a price: story and character are cashed in for box office draw. Just as Leterrier’s Clash of the Titans 2010 came through wholly sans charm, Now You See Me grants audiences only shadows of plot and identity.
The setup is ostensibly mysterious: two stage illusionists, a street magician and a mentalist are drawn together by an unknown benefactor and presented with a plan for the greatest trick of all time. They stage the trick in three acts beginning a year later, starting in Vegas before moving on to New Orleans and then NYC. Each step of the trick draws more official attention since these entertainers, now banded together as “The Four Horsemen,” aren’t just grandstanding illusions – they’re robbing banks.
J. Daniel Atlas (Jesse Eisenberg) is the classic young genius magician, while Merritt McKinney (Woody Harrelson) is the grizzled vet; thrill-seeking lady illusionist Henley Reeves (Isla Fisher) and hard-knocks grad Jack Wilder (Dave Franco) round out the end-of-times foursome. On their tails are magic-buster Thaddeus Bradley (Morgan Freeman), FBI agent Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo) and Interpol agent Alma Dray (Mélanie Laurent). Financier Arthur Tressler (Michael Caine) rounds out the ensemble.
Reflecting a much better caper flick, Now You See Me gets our “heroes” into the interrogation room early and constantly reminds us that the closer we look, the less we see. And that’s where the movie really lets audiences down: All the misdirection, while a lot of fun to watch, hides not a great revelation but the total lack of payoff.
What’s billed as the greatest magic trick in history is a pretty good illusion, but it doesn’t come close to signing the check. The visual effects actually detract from the movie since their impossibility destroys the illusion, taking viewers from the crime thriller genre straight into the worlds of sci-fi.
Even so, Now You See Me is really neither caper nor sci-fi; it’s an all-out action flick with a thin veneer of interest. The angle is a good one, but that’s about all you get. Promises of a tremendous journey beyond the possible are forgotten in the dénouement. The thing about a paradigm-shifting theme is that it needs more than three minutes of screen time.
If there’s a story of note in Now You See Me, it’s the tale of Thaddeus Bradley (the only character who merits a backstory), one that ends in tragedy. As is often the case, this is really Morgan Freeman’s movie.
But the news isn’t all bad. Top-tier action movie acting – especially from Eisenberg, Harrelson and Freeman – combine with a fast-paced sequence and just enough of a tweak to keep the audience guessing. That makes Now You See Me pretty watchable. The magic/crime spin graces an otherwise trite set-up, allowing viewers to slide into the setting easily enough. And cinema is, after all, our grandest visual medium, a fact certainly not lost on Louis Leterrier and screenwriters Ed Solomon, Boaz Yakin and Edward Ricourt.
I just wish it had been less like one-third of Ocean’s Twelve and more like Suicide Kings. This movie’s not winning any Oscars. Hell, it isn’t likely to get even a nod from the MTV Movie Awards, but it’s certainly fun to watch. After all, what are character development and a water-tight plot worth in a summer blockbuster?
Now You See Me (nowyouseememovie.com) opens nationally in wide release today (May 31). For locations and show times in the Nashville area check the websites of Regal Cinemas (www.regmovies.com), Carmike Cinemas (www.carmike.com) and Malco Theatres (www.malco.com). Rated PG-13 for language, some action and sexual content, 116 min. Directed by Louis Leterrier; written by Ed Solomon, Boaz Yakin and Edward Ricourt, based on a story by Mr. Yakin and Mr. Ricourt. Starring Jesse Eisenberg, Isla Fisher, Woody Harrelson, Mark Ruffalo, Dave Franco, Mélanie Laurent, Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, Common and José Garcia.
*Photos by Barry Wetcher courtesy Summit Entertainment.