If Scorcese’s Hugo exuded the spirit of stage magician Georges Méliès’ “movie magic,” then Now You See Me (the third film about stage magic so far this year) had all the potential in the world to bring that love into the present day. But unlike watching a truly great magic trick, Now You See Me is a film with little up its sleeve.
The latest from director Louis Leterrier (The Incredible Hulk, Clash of the Titans), Now You See Me has all the makings of a fun heist film where a band of magicians play Robin Hood, rob banks, and distribute the money as part of their stage act. In the film’s opening, we see the origin of this merry band of thieves, The Four Horsemen. Sleight-of-hand expert Daniel Atlas (Jesse Eisenberg), escape artist Henley (Isla Fisher), “mentalist” Merritt (Woody Harrelson), and street magician Jack (Dave Franco) revel in the notoriety and self-grandeur that these “tricks” bring them. Hot on their tail are magic exposer Thaddeus Bradley (Morgan Freeman) and FBI agent Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo) trying to stay one step ahead of them. Also in the mix are Alma (Mélanie Laurent), Rhodes’ partner from INTERPOL (where all cops with foreign accents come from) and Arthur Tressler (Michael Caine), The Four Horsemen’s bankroller.
The film squanders its premise with a series of futile misdirections that defeat their own purpose by coming too fast and never establishing any stakes or payoffs. Inexplicable events take place that have little impact on what came before, and the film’s ultimate “twist” feels cheap and unearned. The only credit due this film is its fantastic cast, actors that make watching the film bearable despite being given so little to do. There are some fun scenes including a fight sequence using street magic techniques, but none of the characters are ever expanded beyond their function to the plot. Isla Fisher gets the shortest shift, her lines consisting solely of shrugging off sexual advances with sass and a smirk. Similarly, the character played by the wonderful Mélanie Laurent exists only to spout exposition. It was also disappointing to see most of the male characters in the film play some minor variation on their established personas (or in the case of Franco, his older brother’s).
Now You See Me would be pleasant enough to get a pass as fluffy summer fare if not for the twist ending. It does everything a twist shouldn’t do: zero payoff, radical implausibility, and turns large portions of the film into absolute nonsense, rendering a repeat viewing pointless. It took a film I was having some fun with and made me hate it.
Now You See Me opens today in Philly-area theaters.