Cast: Jesse Eisenberg, Mark Ruffalo, Woody Harrelson, Isla Fisher, Dave Franco, Melanie Laurent, Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine
There are a lot of parallels between the art of movies and the art of magic. They’re both illusions. They both have a tendency to distract and fool an audience. They are at times both captivating and awe-inspiring. And both have to ability to make us marvel and perhaps believe — for a second – that the fantastic is possible.
Therefore magic makes for a great metaphor for film. One would think the two would work well in unison, particularly in a heist film — building on each other’s strengths. The first thing Now You See Me does is throw this relationship against the wall in favor of a completely unrealistic and indecipherable “whodunit” caper.
Woody Harrelson, Isla Fisher, Jesse Eisenberg, and a mostly absent Dave Franco play four magicians culled together by an elite organization called The Eye to carry out a mysterious someone’s entirely too convoluted revenge scheme.
Mark Ruffalo plays an FBI agent “investigating” the “Four Horsemen” as they call themselves – really — who always seems to be two steps behind everyone else in the movie. Morgan Freeman plays an old magic buster who’s mostly a jerk off. Finally, Melanie Laurent plays a completely uninteresting love interest.
The film is shot in that synthetic, non-stylized style pioneered by J. J. Abrams and employed through quick camera work and bright lights. It holds no narrative function other than to distract the audience from what’s actually unfolding. So, yah know, you can be more shocked when the agent behind The Eye is reveled.
Now You See Me is a dumb movie that thinks it’s smarter than its audience. It presents a narrative puzzle that can’t really be solved prosaically. Yet for the initiated the solution is apparent right from the get go. And the initiated know the deck is stacked against the audience. One only needs to watch Ocean’s Eleven or Nine Queens to know where the ball’s going to drop in the third act.
The film cannot even satisfyingly explain its own mysteries. Sure, there are scenes where how they pulled it off is explained – partially. The rest is left to assumption or, like any good magician, misdirected from the audience.
I’ve read that Now You See Me should be beyond criticism simply because it is an original summer movie – not a sequel or reboot. What a time we live in. Now You See Me isn’t original, it’s Ocean’s Eleven with magic tricks (apparently magic now constitutes making bubbles with your hands). It’s an utterly derivative and forgettable summer movie that suffocates under its moderately respected ensemble cast. Hell, if it were successful, we’d just see a sequel next year, anyway.