“Now You See Me” has a motto on magic that can be boiled down to one of the first few lines of the movie: “The closer you look, the less you see.” The idea, of course, is that due to all the razzle-dazzle of the trick, we don’t allow ourselves to see the obvious. But no matter how hard “Now You See Me” tries to function like an elaborate magic trick of this nature, the end result has nothing to do with us looking too closely. We’re not looking in the wrong places. We’re not being dazzled to the point where the obvious slips by right before our eyes. No, we’re being suckered by lazy screenwriting that’s geared towards audience members who blindly accept whatever absurdity is presented to them. I’ve always said that a good twist should come like a slap to the face, but that once you let it saturate all the movie’s previous moments, you feel like a moron for having not figured it out yourself. Such complexities evade “Now You See Me,” a movie more concerned with tricking you than letting you be an active part of the fun; a movie that thinks big name actors and lots of flash makes up for it having nothing of real value up its sleeve.
It’s such a shame, because it kicks off with a very promising start. We’re introduced to four different street magicians: Card sharp Daniel Atlas (Jesse Eisenberg), has-been mentalist Merritt McKinney (Woody Harrelson), beautiful escape artist Henley Reeves (Isla Fisher) and pickpocket Jack Wilder (Dave Franco). These four are brought together by a secret benefactor and become a magic act called The Four Horsemen. The group quickly runs into a bit of trouble when they attract the attention of the FBI – headed by agent Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo) — after they seemingly use magic to rob a Paris bank during one of their Vegas shows.
Here’s the thing about “Now You See Me”: its premise is undeniably intriguing, but it’s only so engaging because you can’t help but tirelessly wonder how and why they’re pulling off these outrageous stunts. The whole movie relies on you buying the end payoff; if you don’t, it almost doesn’t matter how entertaining what came before it is. And at least for the first half, there’s plenty good at work here. Our magical quartet is a delight to watch, it’s fast-paced and never dull. But it’s only towards the end that the weaknesses at its core start to really come to light. “Now You See Me” functions like a house of cards: it spends all this time and effort building the story up, only to allow it to all tumble beneath itself come time for the reveal. In this case, the filmmakers would have been better off following magic’s golden rule: a magician should never divulge the secrets behind their tricks.
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