I can’t quite decide if the magic themed crime thriller Now You See Me is better or worse than it was intended. On the one hand, this is an entertaining heist flick with a stellar cast and a nice sense of pacing and flashy atmosphere. On the other hand, it seems to be covering up a lack of depth, no one in the cast has much to do, and the film has at least one twist too many. Director Louis Leterrier gives the movie a Vegas style look, but his screenwriters haven’t really come up with a story you can take seriously at all. Folks like Jesse Eisenberg, Mark Ruffalo, Woody Harrelson, and Morgan Freeman are always a pleasure to see on-screen, but they have suspiciously little to do and almost seem to be just be playing former characters that they’ve already taken on in films before. This all leads to an odd sense of both enjoying the movie and wondering if you should be, hence my middling rating. In the moment, there are certainly things to like, but not unlike magic acts (especially card tricks), it all comes apart the more you think about it.
More than bit interested in taking on an Ocean’s Eleven sort of vibe, the film begins by introducing us to a quartet of illusionists. There’s J. Daniel Atlas (Eisenberg), Merritt McKinney (Harrelson), Henley Reeves (Isla Fisher), and Jack Wilder (Dave Franco). Daniel and Henley used to work together, but initially they’re all on their own before they receive cards that suggest they come to an apartment in New York City. Once there, they see something that changes them and a year later are beginning a high-profile Las Vegas magic act. Their benefactor in the show is the wealthy businessman Arthur Tressler (Michael Caine), but he seems rather in the dark about what they’re up to. Also very interested in things is noted magic myth-buster Thaddeus Bradley (Freeman), and rightly so when the four magicians end the night by apparently robbing a bank. This gets the attention of the FBI and INTERPOL (since it was a French bank that was seemingly robbed), leading to agents Dylan Rhodes (Ruffalo) and Alma Dray (Mélanie Laurent) to take up the case. They’re always one step behind the illusionists, who keep putting on shows that end not just with money being stolen from banks or the rich, but then given to the needy members of the audience. They’re rock stars and hard to catch…will the government be able to do it? Is there a twist to be found? Did you have any doubt? Nope, didn’t think so.
The cast here is tremendous, but none of them particularly impressed me. A lot of that is due to the very thinly sketched characters and Leterrier not really giving anyone their moment to shine, but the actors appear bored and it shows in the performances. Jesse Eisenberg is playing a version of Mark Zuckerberg, and while he’s skilled at it, the ease of the work shows. Woody Harrelson mostly just riffs on the type of fast talking roles he’s played before, while Isla Fisher and Dave Franco are the parts of the quartet that most fade into the background. Mark Ruffalo might actually have the most screen time of anyone in the cast, but he’s playing a part that’s frankly beneath him. He’s been much better as a law enforcement agent in the past, though the script does him no favors. Mélanie Laurent is wasted as his partner/potential love interest, while Michael Caine essentially cameos and Morgan Freeman hams it up. The supporting cast includes the likes of Michael Kelly, but the big name players are as underutilized as Kelly. No one is able to make an impression.
For a decently long stretch of the film, director Louis Leterrier is able to keep things moving fast enough and invokes enough cinematic sleight of hand to maintain your interest. It’s only during the tail end of the third act that things begin to go off the rails and Leterrier loses control. His screenplay, credited to scribes Edward Ricourt, Ed Solomon, and Boaz Yakin, is on the weak side and gets far to ridiculous as it starts to wrap up. The heists themselves are decently well realized, but the film always seems to cool off right as things would otherwise heat up. The first twists of the plot work well enough, but as one after the other is piled up, it all comes tumbling down like a house of cards.
In the end, Now You See Me is a diversion that offers some level of entertainment but also some disappointment as well. Fans of the cast will likely be bummed out that they don’t have more to do, so it’ll fall upon those who are intrigued by the concept to make this one a hit. I thought it was decent enough for the most part, but it either overachieved and managed to avoid being a bad flick, or it underachieved and wasn’t able to become a good one. Either way, it’s not something I can recommend, though it’s hardly the worst thing in theaters these days.
–Thoughts? Discuss in the comments!