At least one of the several significant problems that plague Now You See Me, the magical heist caper from Louis Leterrier, is a constant problem with any attempt to depict stage magic on the big screen: if it’s fiction, it’s not impressive.
The 400-Word Review: Now You See Me
By Sean Collier
June 1, 2013
How’d they do that? By editing. And maybe some CGI.
A smart treatment of illusionists and their ways, like Christopher Nolan’s The Prestige (which is flawed in its own ways,) will redefine its stakes — in Nolan’s film, we weren’t meant to be dazzled by the tricks, but rather by the mystery surrounding them. Now You See Me, however, expects us to be genuinely amazed, as we might at a Vegas stage show. Pretty tough.
That’s not to say that the flick isn’t entertaining. A quartet of less-than-famous performers (Jesse Eisenberg, Dave Franco, Isla Fisher and Woody Harrelson) is brought together by a mysterious guiding hand; the group somehow ends up with an elaborate show booked in Sin City. (How a heretofore-untested band of street performers attracted the attention of a Trump-esque figure in the first place is glossed over, as the script offers no explanation.) For their finale, they rob a bank, seemingly for real; genuine currency rains down over the audience, and a Parisian vault is empty.
The bulk of the story involves various parties — the wronged financier-mogul (Michael Caine,) a retired magician turned debunker (Morgan Freeman) and an international team of crime fighters (led by Mark Ruffalo and Mélanie Laurent) — jockeying for position in the pursuit of the outlaw entertainers.
It works, as far as moving a story goes. And the cast is both powerful and thoroughly enjoyable to watch. We even get a few halfway-decent chase scenes, the best of them through the French Quarter of New Orleans, amid Mardi Gras debauchery.
The problem is that Now You See Me believes itself to be very, very clever. It is not. The biggest twists are telegraphed from the first reel; not exactly good news when the word “misdirection” is uttered about 50 times. We are meant to be dazzled, but the average episode of “Law and Order” has more unexpected reveals than this flick. (In fact, Fast & Furious 6 had a more shocking turn.)
The tagline is “The closer you look, the less you’ll see.” Maybe that’s the real act of misdirection; what they meant was, “Don’t look too closely, because there’s very little here.”
Sean Collier is the Associate Editor of Pittsburgh Magazine and a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association. Read more from Sean at pittsburghmagazine.com/afterdark