In New York, four magicians are assembled to create an unstoppable performing force: J. Daniel Atlas (Jesse Eisenberg) is the ringleader, using his quick-handed skills to take advantage of the weak-minded; Merritt McKinney (Woody Harrelson) is a mentalist specializing in hypnosis; Henley Reeves (Isla Fisher) is a morbidly avant-garde escape artist; and Jack Wilder (Dave Franco) is a pickpocket and sleight of hand master. A year later, at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, the group, now called “The Four Horsemen,” stages an intricate hoax that robs a Parisian bank out of millions of pounds. And it’s just the beginning – their next targets are destined to put their initial illusion to shame. Interpol representative Alma Dray (Melanie Laurent) and FBI agent Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo) are assigned to stop the bank robbers, who remain several steps ahead of them during the entire investigation. Famed magician debunker Thaddeus Bradley (Morgan Freeman) and assistant Hermia (Jessica Lindsey) join the cause, just as it becomes probable that a fifth horseman, as yet unseen, may be serving as puppet master to the whole scheme.
Films about magicians aren’t entirely different from heist movies. The basic notion of mystifying audiences and creating complex misdirection to keep them from arriving at predictable conclusions remains allied (along the lines of the “Ocean’s 11” projects). The trick is to prevent viewers from overanalyzing each scene or keeping too much secreted away until the final minutes, forcing overbearing informational overload. The other catch is that failing to accomplish this task oftentimes results in the insulting of moviegoer intelligence, which can quickly backfire when final revelations are outright shocking. When viewers feel cheated, either through a ludicrous twist ending or tyrannical exposition to compensate for inadequate details (most offensively in the form of flashbacks), the film’s structuring is to blame. There’s nothing amusing about being told how it all works, down to the most miniscule detail. Some small tidbit has to be left available for spectators to triumphantly grasp for themselves.
“Now You See Me” is one of those films that tries to be too clever for its own good. It’s brainier than the public, and they’re repeatedly asked to embrace that fact. Embellished with dizzying camera maneuvers, glimmering lights, and phony hipness that ache of overwrought styling, the look and feel grows tiresome quickly. The characters make up for the technical flashiness by imbuing camaraderie and comedy, in two separate teams, that also retain flaws. Rhodes and Dray strike up a misplaced romance that feels glaringly out of place, while Eisenberg’s arrogance, smug façade, and minimalist facial expressions reveal a lack of range that has been apparent through his entire career. He’s also supposed to have some sort of connection to Reeves, but it never follows through. Franco’s role receives the least attention, conceding a character that could have been written out, and the typical jurisdictional complications play a part of their own, preventing the various authorities from staying ahead of the suspects in what has become a tiresome, anticipated obstacle. The cast is clearly having fun – but shouldn’t that carry over to the audience? At least “magic crime” seems to be a novel idea.
“I’m completely lost in this game. Would you please explain all of it to me?” challenges Rhodes when he is duped for the umpteenth time. The appearance of illusions in the film is so fantastical that they stretch the realm of believability entirely too thin (leaning more towards “The Prestige” instead of “The Illusionist” and emphasizing the sketchy phenomenon of hypnosis). Many of the more elaborate legerdemains are broadcast through flashbacks that clearly demonstrate the solutions; the problem is that the level of coincidence for every situation to unfold exactly as planned is so irritatingly unlikely that the finale calls every ridiculously lucky circumstance into question. It’s still entertaining to see people in power become humbled by the cons of Robin Hood-esque swindlers, but the deception carries over to the characters, possessing anti-hero traits that question whether or not they’re true protagonists.
– The Massie Twins (GoneWithTheTwins.com)