By: Paul Zecharia | www.stonesdetroit.com
I remember the days where I was in love with magic. I had several magic books and even a magic box filled with many tricks to pull off. But never in a million years would I have imagined magic being used for crime sprees. Imagine you’re in a boardroom pitching your next big movie idea to the producers. Your pitch would go like this: “Ocean’s Eleven, but with magicians.” Now there’s an idea that cannot possibly be turned down. Why? Because then we would not get the wildly entertaining Now You See Me, the new film from director Louis Leterrier and screenwriters Ed Solomon, Boaz Yakin, and Edward Ricourt. Now You See Me is not one of the smartest thrillers ever written, but it is a ton of fun. Much of the film’s strength comes from the incredible star power of the ensemble cast. They are on top of the world and just delightful to watch in this film, even if it plunges into absolute ridiculousness and implausibility, there is enough energy and twists to keep you at the edge of your seat. There are some unsatisfying moments as they will leave audiences scratching their heads, but Now You See Me does manage to be incredibly enjoyable, for the most part. All it needed was a little bit of magic. You may think that is this is either a silly premise or an intriguing one. I’m going with intriguing for this film, even though not everything seems to add up.
We have four magicians: a street performer named Daniel Atlas (Jesse Eisenberg), a psychic named Merritt McKinney (Woody Harrelson), a small-time performer and former assistant to Atlas named Henley Reeves (Isla Fisher), and a scam artist named Jack Wilder (Dave Franco). One day, they are all called together after getting the same calling card from a mysterious hooded figure. One year later, all four magicians, now famously called the “Four Horsemen”, are big-time magicians sponsored by the media tycoon Arthur Tressler (Michael Caine). During one of their major shows in Las Vegas, their final trick involves achieving the impossible: robbing a bank in France while still onstage in Las Vegas. They end up pulling it off and giving away all the money to the audience. This attracts the attention of the FBI, and agent Dylan Hobbs (Mark Ruffalo) is called in to investigate. He is joined by Interpol agent Alma Vargas (Mélanie Laurent). After some interrogations, they are unable to find anything. But then a famous magic debunker named Thaddeus Bradley (Morgan Freeman) comes in to provide information to the agents about how the magicians pulled off this trick.
From that moment on, it leads to one big twist after the other. We have two major missions: to pull of the greatest magic trick ever and to expose one of the biggest heists ever. The motivations of the characters are questioned and it does keep you guessing which side is each character on. Hobbs, Vargas, and Bradley discuss the possibility of there being a Fifth Horseman. And given the way these magicians pull of these tricks, who knows? Now You See Me is a fast-paced film. There is a decent amount of action, mostly coming from foot chases and one car chase. The suspense during the tricks is well-built and it even leads to some comedic moments. However, the energized pacing can lead to some rather shaky camerawork and even some choppy editing. Although the film moves like a thriller, it does not given enough space to let it breath and take in the magic it has to offer. Even though this is a rather compelling journey, the magic and charisma starts to lose some of its touch in the third act, especially when the major twist is revealed. Without giving away any of the spoilers, but you may find yourself dumbfounded.
However, the cast is what keeps Now You See Me strong. Eisenberg adds a good amount of charisma for Daniel Atlas, the leader of the Horsemen. Eisenberg’s Zombieland co-star Harrelson is definitely the funniest of the Horsemen. Dave Franco, younger brother of James Franco, is on his way as a rising star after appearing in last year’s hit 21 Jump Street and this year’s Warm Bodies and is quite likable and as Jack, the youngest member. And Fisher as Henley, the only female of the group, is always energetic and lovable with enough wit and skill to back her up. You put these four together and they become inspiring and charismatic. Ruffalo plays Agent Hobbs as tenacious and determined in his quest to bring down the Horsemen, and there is a great amount of strong conflict when he is being forced to work with Laurent’s Vargas. Laurent, the French actress mostly known as Shoshana Dreyfus in Inglourious Basterds, is a wonderful addition to the cast and I hope she continues to find more work in American films. And finally we have Alfred and Lucius Fox reunited once again. Yes, Michael Caine is an actor of class and grace, but he just plays Michael Caine in this film. It’s still great though because how can you go wrong with Michael Caine? And as I have said before with Olympus Has Fallen and Oblivion, Morgan Freeman can do no wrong in any film he appears in. Both are always a treat to see.
Now You See Me will most likely not be one of the biggest summer hits of 2013, but it is worth at least one viewing. Maybe even two if you did not get every piece of the puzzle the first time. In a way, this is pretty much Ocean’s Eleven meets The Prestige. While it may not offer the possibility of a sequel, I would not see a problem with an opportunity for more magic and mayhem from the same cast. Leterrier gives enough wit and charm to both the cast and script to make it a rather effective heist film. And maybe the film could have benefited from some strong character development rather than just going for straight-up heist film. However, when you have three screenwriters, an opportunity like that is sadly avoided. The major weakness is certainly some of the unconnected dots. But if you’re looking for a good popcorn summer flick, Now You See Me is not a bad choice. There is enough to make for compelling action and some nice insight into the world of magic. All you have to do is look closely…and you’ll find something.
Three and a half out of five stars.
Now You See Me is rated PG-13 for language, some action and sexual content.
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