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By Sunny Choi · June 3, 2013
I can see that this movie might receive moderately positive reviews with its action and chase sequences, suspense, and glitz and glamour, but its weak characterization and muddled plot knock it five notches below other good movies that deal in the same subject matter—The Prestige, The Illusionist. Now You See Me is in fact an illusion and even a fraud. It masks its mediocre screenplay with a bunch of special effects and clever tricks (literally and metaphorically) while forcing some unconvincing and contrived plot twists.
Four independent magicians are summoned by a mysterious hooded figure to perform the biggest magic heist of their lives. J. Daniel Atlas (Jesse Eisenberg) is an arrogant card whiz and street magician. Merritt McKinney (Woody Harrelson) uses his specialty in hypnosis and mind games to con people into bribing him. Jack Wilder (Dave Franco), the kid of the group, comes off as a rascal pickpocket. Henley Reeves (Isla Fisher) is like a female Houdini who prides herself in escaping the most dangerous and impossible situations. A year later, these magicians are headlining a national tour under the title “The Four Horsemen,” since they manage to pull off bank heists during their shows. They are under the patronage of shady British multibillionaire Arthur Tressler (Michael Caine). After they seamlessly rob a French bank, FBI agent Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo) takes on the task of proving their guilt but is constantly one-upped by these four tricksters. He is aided by a female French Interpol detective, Alma Dray (Melanie Laurent). The Four Horsemen are also being pursued and scrutinized by Thaddeus Bradley (Morgan Freeman), a condescending, former magician and media personality who makes fortunes off of revealing magicians’ tricks and illusions.
While one might question the importance of characterization in caper fiction, the lack of characterization in this film leaves audiences to wonder how certain thinly sketched characters could even be capable of doing these crazy things. We could even think of this film as a grown-up version of Tom and Jerry. The Four Horsemen are like clever Jerry, always managing to stay one to two steps ahead of the FBI, the misguided and gullible task force that resembles Tom. This constant cat and mouse chase overshadows any sort of development in the characters, and so all of them are one-note and uninteresting. The best performances came from Woody Harrelson and Morgan Freeman, largely because they did the best with the little material that they had.
Some of the magic tricks and heists were interesting to watch. These illusions include giant mirrors, hypnosis, and holograms. But no matter how spectacular these tricks were, the gaping holes were still blatant and un-hide-able. For example, Michael Caine’s character stops appearing at some point in the film and we never learn what happened to him, even after he strikes an important deal with another character.
This film could have done a better job unfolding its narrative throughout rather than trying to pack all of the important bits of detail and history into the last act and a half. Perhaps Dray’s drawn out and uninteresting encapsulation of magic history was supposed to fulfill this function, but something about her uninteresting tangential speech made it easy to overlook. This boring speech may have also been a purposeful move to sneak past viewers’ keen observational skills. The film makes the wrong move by severely underplaying the numerous potential motives behind this heist. When this important backstory resurfaces, it feels very abrupt, forced, and unnatural.
The film’s over-the-top tricks become so increasingly complex and mind boggling to viewers that we cease to maintain our suspension of disbelief. This may be a personality misfit, as I prefer genuine heartfelt movies, but I was put off by how this movie never seemed to take itself seriously. When it finally did, it was too late, and I did not buy their phony conclusion.
Admirers of Louis Leterrier’s former films (Transporter, Clash of the Titans series) and fans of CGI and Las Vegas glitz may enjoy this film. For those who prefer dramatic narrative and strong characterization, I recommend skipping this film entirely.