There is nothing special about the plot of "Now You See Me". The acting is pretty terrible and the script staggers from one scene to the next, filled with odd interactions and forced dialogue. Yet "Now You See Me" is a movie that embraces its oddity and its stupidity. It doesn't reach for the stars—it is only trying to be entertaining.
Magic is portrayed on screen very often: the most notable movies of this odd sub-genre are "The Prestige" and "The Illusionist" (on a side note, a docudrama about Howard Thurston's life would be appreciated). Both these movie stressed the need for a third act reveal, though "The Prestige" beat it into the viewer's mind with Michael Caine's voiced prologue popping up more than once in the film. "The Illusionist" was more of a love story than a magic trick and it treated the source material with much more dignity—it's a very underrated movie.
Yet both these movies are viewing magic as a thing of the past. They are subtly saying that true stage magic may be gone forever—when magic was slight of the hand, mirrors, and sans-technology. But then you have slick Vegas acts like The Four Horsemen as exemplified in "Now You See Me" which prove to everyone that stage magic is alive and well.
Of course, the members of The Four Horsemen weren't always together...something or someone brought our four protagonists together.
Movies love to have moral villains. Their acts may be illegal and they may be criminals...but it's okay to break the law if you have a really good reason. Perhaps the legal system is corrupt and this is what leads our good-bad guys to do the things they do.
Commentaries on law, ramifications for crimes, and anything dealing with ethics—you won't find these things in "Now You See Me". Though the movie has two sides—the clumsy pursuers and the sleek pursued—it's not a movie with a brain. It won't stand up to analysis or probably even multiple views; but don't let that deter you.
Somehow, though (much like "The Prestige") there is a voiced prologue that repeats many times in the movie; it stops being about the reveal and becomes more about the characters...shocking, I know.
Maybe this is just my justification because the third act reveal was a real downer. Nothing can drag a picture down like adding implausibility onto implausibility.
We meet out four magicians through a series of fast showcases—like watching four side acts one after the other.
J. Daniel Atlas (a cocky Jesse Eisenberg) is the flashy magician. He deals with card tricks and big lights...seeking to impress more than amaze.
Merritt McKinney (Woody Harrelson) is a mentalist (not like the TV show), a psychic if you will. Taking cues from facial twitches and using hypnotism, the movie never really states if his brand of magic is real or not.
Henley Reeves (Isla Fisher) is an escape artist with a very unusual flare for theatrics.
Lastly, we have Jack Wilder (Dave Franco), a street performer and a pickpocket. Honestly, although Franco is likable as Wilder, this felt like a forced character that is only in place so the act these magicians will form could have an apocalyptic name.
All getting invitations on tarot-looking cards, the four make their way to an apartment where they find lots of interesting documents...cue the main title.
Giving themselves the name "The Four Horsemen", the act storms into Vegas with the help of Arthur Tressler (Michael Caine...is he in everything?).
Then there's Thaddeus Bradley (Morgan Freeman...who is in everything!), a man who makes his living by figuring out how magic tricks are done and then shaming the magicians. His success is their downfall.
The first real magic act that we see done by the Four Horsemen involves a bank and a lot of money. The FBI becomes involved and then we meet Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo) and Alma Dray (Mélanie Laurent). These two, while not fanning imaginary romantic flames, are chasing down the four magicians to bring them to "justice".
SIDETRACK: the name "Four Horseman" could refer to the apocalypse and the book of Revelations.....or it could be a reference to the four horsemen of the Supreme Court. I think the latter is more likely because they magicians are essentially Robin Hood characters.
The rest of the plot will remain a mystery...if you can avoid watching the trailer, I would advise that you do that. The trailer for this movie gives away everything...I'm usually horrible at guessing the reveals. But because I had seen the tell-all trailer, it was easy-peasy-lemon-squeezy.
The acting is really quite bad, Woody Harrelson does the best job followed by Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine (duh!). Dave Franco, as previously mentioned, is likable; but felt somewhat unnecessary. Isla Fisher has one facial expression, but luckily that is a smile so she isn't that reminiscent of Kristen Stewart. Jesse Eisenberg is at home as a smug jerk; it's nothing breathtaking.
But then...there's Mark Ruffalo. He is simply awful as the obsessed cop. Frankly, it wasn't an original character; but come on!
I'm a fan of Mélanie Laurent, and she is respectable here. But as for the forced romance between Dray and Rhodes...really? Is every B-movie in need of some form of screen love? There is no bond between them—even in their best "hot" scenes, they couldn't burn oxygen....ah, chemistry jokes.
Bad quips aside, the movie would have been better without Ruffalo in it.
The camera-work is relentless. It seems like the cinematographers, Mitchell Amundsen and Larry Fong, could only work in circles. There are so many shots, circling the characters...it begins to get old after a while.
Still, the movie is a success, in that it was entertaining the whole way through. There's not really any dull moments...even it's bad parts are still fun.
Score: 2 and a half stars out of 4