Perhaps it was the wonder of magician Doug Henning’s TV specials that I saw at an impressionable age or maybe because I was given a Presto Magic Show Set (complete with magician’s performance table! ) when I was 5. Whatever the reason, I am sort of predisposed to enjoy films about magicians. Not since 2006 have we had such an influx of movies regarding the profession: both The Prestige and The Illusionist came out. That was a banner year. I keep hoping another will live up to that high standard. 2013 isn’t that year, but it’s the closest we’ve come since. The Incredible Burt Wonderstone debuted back in March and Now You See Me was released in May. While I thought the Steve Carrel film was acceptable, this one is even better.
A super-team of illusionists are brought together by a mysterious manipulator who dubs them The Four Horsemen. This unseen entity gives them the blueprints for an elaborate stage production. Then one day after performing successfully for over a year, they’re playing to a packed house in Las Vegas. For their grand finale the magic group seemingly robs millions of Euros from a bank in Paris. Now it’s up to an FBI officer and his squad to solve the mystery of what happened to the missing cash.
A star-studded cast and captivating plot highlight this entertaining escapade. The appealing premise had me instantly hooked. Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Isla Fisher and Dave Franco are charismatic magicians each with different specialties. Arrogant and smug their personalities mesh together well into a slick show. Yet they’re apparently merely the puppets in an intricate scheme to mask the real crime. Mark Ruffalo plays FBI Agent Dylan Rhodes who joins forces with Alma Vargas (Mélanie Laurent) to get to the bottom of this conundrum. Michael Caine is the wealthy benefactor that funds their successful theatrics and Morgan Freeman is the skeptic who debunks magicians on his reality series. Just who is behind the very real disappearance of the money? As the chronicle evolves, the action displays The Four Horsemen’s humorous ability to always stay one step ahead of the FBI and his team. The U.S. agency begins to look kind of bumbling.
Now You See Me has a brilliant set up. Over time that semblance of sense gives way to a pretty convoluted third act that will require a willing suspension of disbelief in order to swallow all that came before it. For example the clarification of what actually happens during a car crash is completely ludicrous. The details don’t hold up, but that still doesn’t mean the picture isn’t fun. For a good while, the developments are fast paced and lively. There’s CGI galore to emphasize the style of their illusions. The cinematography is a bit dizzy. A little less spinning camerawork would’ve sufficed. I suppose that’s the art of misdirection at work, but it also imparts a lighthearted panache that never allows the audience to take this subject too seriously. There’s no way anyone could possibly explain the ‘how’ or ‘why’ until the very end, but it’s still interesting enough to hold your attention.
Addendum: I was captivated by the premise enough to see this. So were a lot of other people. Only $7M kept Now You See Me from being the #1 movie opening weekend in U.S. That was against Fast & Furious 6 in it’s 2nd week and After Earth in its 1st. I like surprises….especially ones involving magic.