A caper film hidden behind a mask of magic may sometimes be too clever for its own good, but its genuine surprises, tight script and talented cast make it a worthy popcorn flick.
As with any crime film, especially one that’s filled with never ending twists and turns, much of the fun is being genuinely surprised by the directions it takes. This is especially true for Now You See Me which is a crime-thriller where it’s main characters happen to be magicians. J. Daniel Atlas (Jesse Eisenberg) is a street magician making ends meet, Merritt Osbourne (Woody Harrelson) is a mentalist (think hypnotist) who has fallen from glory, Henley Reeves (Isla Fisher) is Atlas’ former assistant turned main attraction and Jack Wilder (Dave Franco) is even more of a “street” magician than Atlas, who has turned to petty pickpocketing. All four are given a mysterious card that leads them to come together and year later are a massive sensation as The Four Horseman. Not only are they a hit with audiences but with law enforcement as well. During a show in Las Vegas they supposedly transport an audience member to his bank in Paris, who proceeds to steal millions of dollars in cash which is then rained down upon the showgoers. Of course this makes for a great trick, the only hitch is that the money really has been taken from the back. FBI Agent Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo) is assigned to the case who, rightfully, thinks it’s all a stupid sham. He’s also partnered up with rookie INTERPOL agent Alma Vargas (Melanie Laurent). Rhodes doesn’t really take any of it seriously and just wants to cut through the crap to find out how they really did it. He’s soon somewhat aided by Thaddeus Bradley (Morgan Freeman) who has made a career out of debunking the tricks of magicians.
But that trick was only the beginning. The Four Horsemen have two more shows where they will supposedly perform similar, impossible, and lucrative, illusions. It’s a simple game of cat and mouse as Rhodes and Vargas attempt to get ahead in the game, yet they are constantly one, or two or three, steps behind the Horsemen. Where the film succeeds is in crafting a somewhat believable heist plot where four magicians are allegedly stealing money out in the open, right in front of massive audiences. The surprises and reveals feel genuine, never forced, and while there is a dearth of character development, the cast are all strong enough to gloss over those flaws, just enough to keep them engaging. Unlike other films about magicians, like The Prestige to name a recent one, there isn’t much going on under the surface in terms of psychology or philosophical intellectualism. Instead, it sets up a semi-mythology, a few different threads (including links to some past events) and the aforementioned mysterious coming together of the four magicians. Slowly the pieces come together, sometimes only to unravel once again, but director Louis Leterrier (The Transporter) is always moving the story forward which holds onto the tension.
If there’s any distractions it’s the camera work which seems to never cease whizzing and whirling around the characters, rarely staying static for long, which adds some frustration at being at its mercy. While it may add a sense of urgency to the film, it also never allows the audience to fully engage with the characters on screen, especially during the more theatrical scenes, but does become more bearable as the film trails on. Some stabs at character depth also fall flat and while, again, the talented cast is able to overcome it it still leaves a surface feeling rather than really ever getting to know who any of these people are and what they want. Still, for a run-of-the-mill studio caper flick which just wants to keep the audience entertained and on the edge of their seats, it works better than most.
Rating: 3 out of 5