“Now You See Me”
1 hour, 55 minutes
I’ll admit that I can’t name more than a handful of magician movies, but more than just about any genre, at least based on the ones I’ve seen, these films seem to be able to take on the particular characteristics of their director with surprising ease.
In addition to this week’s “Now You See Me,” I could come up with three others that definitively fall into the category of “magician movies:” “The Prestige,” “The Illusionist,” and this year’s “Burt Wonderstone.” Go back and watch “The Prestige” and you’ll see director Christopher Nolan all over it, including starring his Batman, Christian Bale in not one, but two roles. Neil Burger, who directed “The Illusionist,” is known for smaller, intimate, yet tightly woven, high concept stories, such as “Limitless” and “The Lucky Ones.” “The Illusionist” is all that and more. Don Scardino, who directed “Burt Wonderstone” is a TV director for hire, and therefore without a personality, so his movie was forced to take on the persona of its star Steve Carrell, which it did with all the sitcom blandness it could muster.
With all this in mind, it’s easy to see why, though my friends were disappointed with “Now You See Me,” considering it unbelievable and having too much silly action, I looked at it a little differently. This is a movie by Louis Leterrier, the director of “The Transporter,” “Clash of the Titans,” and “The Incredible Hulk.” This was always going to be the magic-movie-as-crazy-action-movie. What more could we expect?
The movie opens by introducing us one by one to our four protagonists, soon to join forces as the magical crusading quartet, The Four Horsemen. Jessie Eisenberg plays Daniel Atlas, a street magician with a flair for the dramatic. Woody Harrelson is Merritt McKinney, a formerly famous mentalist who now shakes down tourists after hypnotizing their darkest secrets out of them. Isla Fisher is Henley Reeves, a stage magician specializing in daring feats, and Dave Franco is Jack Wilder, a pick-pocket and hustler with a talent for getting out of sticky situations.
When a mysterious hooded figure anonymously recruits the four to audition for entrance into a secret society, they jump at the chance, spending the next year honing their skills and working up to a climactic series of three performances where their shadowy leader will suddenly make known his secret agenda in the most dramatic fashion possible.
The movie also stars Michael Caine, as a super rich financier, Morgan Freeman, as a professional debunker, and Mark Ruffalo and Melanie Laurent as a pair of cops who can barely stop butting heads long enough to solve the crime of the century. Any bets on how long it will take these two to fall in love?
Yes, “Now You See Me” is predictable. And yes it’s schlocky. But it’s also a lot of fun, and even though much of it you can see coming a mile away, the screenwriters still manage to keep hidden a twist or two, just to keep you guessing. There’s an inherent problem in a movie that makes its money on trying to fool you, but also tells the audience, from early on, not to believe anything they see. And yet, Leterrier just goes ahead and does it anyway, blithely figuring, “Well, if they figure it out, good for them, but if they’re surprised, well good for them too!”
“Now You See Me” has something that’s been missing from too many action-adventures lately, and that’s a sense of fun. Not comedy, per se, and not wacky antics, but a sense that this is all supposed to be enjoyable rather than a morality tale.
The tricks in “Now You See Me,” are impressive, and pretty grand scale. They are not, however, impossible, as the movie goes to great pains to explain. That was also an element of the film I liked. Often, with magic shows, once you know how the trick is done, you feel somewhat deflated and disappointed. But here, the illusions are of such elaborate design, the explanations are almost as fun as the trick themselves.
“Now You See Me” certainly has it’s shares of missteps. Some of the acting is hokey, as is much of the dialogue. The complicated and meticulous plot unravels at the slightest examination, but I say, so what? Heist movies and escape movies and the like all depend on overly complicated plans and schemes to make them work. And none of them make any sense if you start to pick them apart. But in a magic show, just like in the movies, entertainment is the highest value. And for whatever else it’s missing, “Now You See Me” is highly entertaining.
“Now You See Me” is rated PG-13 for language, brief violence, and mild sensuality.
Chris Jenness is a freelance graphic designer, artist and movie buff who lives in Nikiski.