Although it aspires to be a smart blockbuster, Now You See Me is a very surface-level experience, with director Louis Leterrier using attractive, polished visuals to compensate for a slipshod script. Unlike 2013’s other major magician picture, The Incredible Burt Wonderstone, this effort is more seriously-minded, placing magicians within a twisty investigate thriller tailor-made for the summer season. The result is not a complicated, mentally-stimulating heist picture like Ocean’s Eleven, but rather a Hollywood extravaganza. While it’s disappointing that the film falls short of its potential, it is intensely fun and fascinating as it unfolds, making it worth at least a mild recommendation.
Four magicians – sleight-of-hand master Daniel (Jesse Eisenberg), mentalist Merritt (Woody Harrelson), escape artist Henley (Isla Fisher) and pickpocket Jack (Dave Franco) – are united by an unseen entity, who tasks them with mastering an elaborate arena show. One year later, “The Four Horseman” put on their first show, in which they ostensibly rob a bank using magic. Investigating the audacious stunt is F.B.I. Agent Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo), who’s paired with Interpol Agent Dray (Mélanie Laurent) to bring down the group of illusionists, remaining hot on their tail at every turn. Also interested in the Four Horseman is wily magic debunker Thaddeus (Morgan Freeman), who’s out to reveal how the gang are pulling off their tricks. Meanwhile, the Four Horseman become a smashing success overnight, looking to perform further shows to mesmerised, sold-out crowds as they ready themselves for their final plan of attack.
Without much in the way of smarts, Now You See Me is more about cheap thrills and blockbuster escapism, with writers Ed Solomon, Boaz Yakin and Edward Ricourt even inserting superfluous chases in a bid to compensate for the film’s emptiness. This may be a picture about magic, but it’s more concerned with movie magic; the tricks are all pulled off with CGI and cinematic trickery, rather than sleight-of-hand mastery. The Incredible Burt Wonderstone actually contained a few magic tricks pulled off in-camera, devised by illusionist David Copperfield, but no such content exists here. Admittedly, however, the Four Horseman’s first show is a slam dunk, with Leterrier nailing the sense of wonder that a magic-oriented film should be able to deliver. Unfortunately, Leterrier and his crew were apparently operating under the impression that the audience is more interested in noise than awe, leading to silly action beats and further magic shows that are surprisingly humdrum. As a result, Now You See Me is unable to recapture the brilliance of its its first act. Even the Horseman’s final show is a dud; it’s meant to be a showstopper, but it’s riddled with CGI that only detracts from the experience. No sense of wonder is felt.
It pretty much comes with the territory, but Now You See Me suffers due to lack of compelling characters. The Four Horseman apparently have no lives outside of their profession, as the script treats them as plot pawns with absolutely no dimension. Since they are more or less the bad guys, and the film wants us to root for the magicians, it would’ve been beneficial if we were able to get to know them on a more profound level. Moreover, there’s a completely ill-considered attempt to develop a romance between Rhodes and Dray, which makes no sense since the characters are strangers who know nothing about one another. Worse, it’s very underdeveloped, as if the studio demanded for a romantic note to be wedged into the story, coherency be damned.
Now You See Me is undeniably terrible from a script aspect, hence it’s fortunate that the movie was brought to life with flawless technical specs. It’s junk food cinema pulled off with genuine style; Leterrier creates dazzling eye candy throughout, and had enough money at his disposal to keep the movie brisk and competent enough to distract us from how misjudged the entire screenplay truly is. Summer movies often lean on shaky-cam and fast cutting, but Leterrier avoids this pitfall, using an array of sturdy shots to capture the silly action beats. Better, the acting is strong right down the line. Now You See Me is carried by quite an impressive ensemble, all of whom are terrific despite their superficial roles. The standouts, easily, are Eisenberg and Harrelson; both are cocksure and fast-talking, and it’s entertaining to watch them run their mouths. Seasoned veterans Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman are also predictably good. Freeman is especially engaging (no surprise at all), and watching him dissect magic tricks makes for dynamite cinema.
I will credit Now You See Me with one script-related strength: the twist ending is brilliant. Signs do initially seem to point to a very predictable twist, but the ending defied my expectations, and I was actually surprised. Nevertheless, there are some big leaps of logic here that are a tad challenging to overlook. David Fincher’s The Game likewise featured a handful of absurd contrivances, but it had thematic resonance and a gratifying character arc. Now You See Me, on the other hand, lacks the thoughtfulness to become something of any substance. Instead, it’s like a Las Vegas magic show – entertaining and executed with panache, but nothing lasting or memorable. The title is derived from the old magician saying “Now you see it, now you don’t,” which also accurately describes the fleeting memory of watching Now You See Me. How appropriate.
Now You See Me isn’t due for release on these shores until October, but if its anything like the US disc, fans of the film are in for a real treat. It comes packaged with an extended edition of the flick that may or may not be an improvement.
The 1080p (2.40:1) transfer, like most recent studio releases, is fantastically sharp and highly detailed. This is a varied-looking film and the disc handles the fluctuations in tone spectacularly. Its not quite perfect but comes damn near close.
Even better is the lossless DTS-HD Master 7.1 audio mix, which gives the film one helluva boisterous punch. The surrounds are used well and the movie’s set-pieces are especially immersive. On a technical level, Lionsgate’s release can’t be faulted for a recent title.
The extras are less impressive but cover all of the usual bases succinctly:
- Audio Commentary with Producer Bobby Cohen and Director Louis Letterier on the theatrical cut.
- Now You See Me Revealed (featurette).
- A Brief History of Magic (documentary).
- Deleted Scenes.
- Teaser Trailer.
- Theatrical Trailer.
Now You See Me is released in the UK October 28th.