Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Now You See Me

Now You See Me (2013)
Dir. Louis Leterrier

3 out of 5

There’s an obvious connection between movies and magic, both art forms that trade in illusion to provoke a strong emotional response and inspire wonder.  Now You See Me doesn’t play coy when it comes to explaining most of the artifice employed by the Four Horsemen, a quartet of magicians - cocksure superstar Daniel Atlas (Jesse Eisenberg), spunky escape artist Henley Reeves (Isla Fisher), slightly-baked mentalist Merritt McKinney (Woody Harrelson), and talented hustler Jack Wilder (Dave Franco) - that must complete a set of grand challenges set up by a mysterious benefactor.  But since the process involves the criminal redistribution of wealth - in their first trick, millions of Euros disappear from a French bank - the Horsemen draw the attention of international law enforcement, jumping at the chance to expend valuable resources for the pleasure of being publicly embarrassed by showbiz professionals.  It’s an admittedly goofy premise that generates too many questions with increasingly silly and preposterous answers.  But isn’t that a big reason why magicians are loath to reveal their secrets?  Don’t you always feel a little disappointed when people explain the inexplicable?

Look, this is a much better movie about magicians than Burt Wonderstone.  After a nifty introduction of the Horsemen and their mission, the film shifts to the perspective of FBI agent Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo) who reluctantly teams with Alma (Mélanie Laurent), a French Interpol agent in her first field assignment, to investigate the bank robbery.  When Rhodes professes his distaste for all forms of deception and equates stage magicians with con artists, his fate as the movie’s Wile E. Coyote surrogate is sealed.  At least Ruffalo’s testy bumbler can turn to his partner, whose curiosity leads her to actually research this “magic” thing and allows the film to sketch out an ongoing debate between skepticism and belief.

The introduction of more procedural mystery elements sap Now You See Me of its initial energy, but there are enough check-ins with the Horsemen to remind us that this is ultimately light, fluffy fare.  You take it seriously at your own risk.  Plot twists and red herrings pile up carelessly among fun performances by a cast that does its best to redeem the material.  There’s also some redemption for the director here, Louis Leterrier, a Luc Besson protégé returning from joyless franchise excursions (the Ed Norton-starring Incredible Hulk, a Clash of the Titans remake) to the brainless ecstasy of the Transporter movies that launched his career:  you can practically see Leterrier’s watermark over a tussle between Rhodes and Wilder that makes inventive and hilarious use of a magician’s typical tools.  Much like an actual magic show, Now You See Me is swiftly-paced entertainment designed to protect against greater scrutiny.  It’s too scattered and laissez-faire to endure as a guilty pleasure, but as an economical engine for cheap thrills and mildly clever humor, you could do much worse.

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