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Caleb Masters

Now You See Me: More Than Meets The Eye

Jun 02, 2013


It’s a rare treat these days that we get a new property to release a movie right in the heat of summer blockbuster season which is usually limited to huge comic book movies, comedies, and other franchise driven films. “Now You See Me” is making up for its lack of entitlement with an exciting cast made up of some of the best young actors in the business who are thrown into the mix as street magicians with hearts of gold.  It’s a rich concept of magic meets “Ocean’s Eleven” that certainly raises a brow or two, but does this movie bring the real magic or is it just made up of mirrors and cheap parlor tricks?

In a prologue we are introduced to four amateur magicians who are brought together by an elusive hooded figure to follow through with a mysterious agenda that never becomes quite clear until the movie’s end. The core group is made up of the egocentrical street magician Atlas(Jesse Eisenberg), the wisecracking mentalist Merritt(Woody Harrelson), the beautiful escape artist Henly(Isla Fisher), and finally the jack of all trades, Jack Wilder(Dave Franco). After they are are brought together, the group becomes known as the Four Horsemen and in what appears to be the biggest show of their career, they rob a bank and shower the money in on the audience. It takes no time for the FBI to send in one of their best age, Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo), in on the job to figure out the mystery behind the magic. In his investigation he also gets mixed in with an ex-magician named Thaddeus Bradley(Morgan Freeman) and the financial backer of the Four Horsemen  Arthur Tressler(Michael Caine). The movie quickly develops into a heist thriller with a twist that will have you trying to figure out exactly what is going on until the very end.

Much like Christopher Nolan’s exceptional sleeper hit “The Prestige”, Now You See Me lays its plot out much like the three stages of an illusion. The first act is known as “the pledge” which is an introduction to the rules and players. The first act of the movie is incredibly promising with its great core cast of magicians, suspenseful heist element, and exciting possibilities.

The second act is known as “the turn” where the rules that were laid down are made extraordinary and extravagant (i.e. the plot thickens). “Now You See Me” continues with its momentum into its second act by fleshing out everything we already knew which is where the movie’s story begins to show its cracks. It quickly becomes clear that the script thinks it is far smarter than it actually is with the audience avatar Dylan playing quite literally the dumbest FBI agent to ever work the field. While this is intended to be a way for audiences to participate in the investigation with the character, it becomes increasingly frustrating to watch the character stumble or miss even the most obvious of clues and trickery. Ruffalo plays the character as best he can, but the script does a down right awful job at making him either likeable or believable.

Other problems such as a lack of focus on a central character and weak plotting slowly but surely begin to rear their ugly head in the second act before exploding in the movie’s finale. The movie actually has a hard time deciding just who it wants to follow. In the beginning the movie sticks pretty closely to the group of magicians, but it then abruptly shifts its focus to Ruffalo’s skeptical yet painfully idiotic FBI agent.

Despite all the issues I’ve mentioned, the movie never stops being fun despite the huge suspension of belief and sometimes laughable writing, but the real issue comes in during the final act or “the prestige”. This is generally the part of the show where the story brings the magic back to a reality and makes sense of everything without actually demystifying the more compelling tricks of the film. “Now You See Me” had an exciting premise and some compelling if flawed build up in the second act, but sadly the writers of this film seem to have felt as though they had written themselves into a corner with all of these puzzle pieces of a plot floating around because they ultimately take the lazy way out of making it all fit together. There is a twist that occurs in the final scenes of this movie that not only doesn’t make sense, but it also doesn’t play fair with the script or the intelligence of the audience.

The real problem in “Now You See Me” is the script which in hindsight seems like a cool idea that one writer thought of that was poorly executed by another before being sent to one last writer to sprinkle in some great banter/character dynamics to make it filmable. Much like many of the biggest magic shows in the business, the flash and the style is there, but in reality there isn’t real substance beneath it all to make it last.

As the movie reminds us; the key is misdirection and “Now You See Me” was trying so very hard to play a trick on its audience by steering us away from the poor script by bringing in an exciting and charismatic cast of actors with well written parts to sell the movie. Despite acknowledging this, I think that there is a lot of fun to be had in this movie because of the things I just mention. Jesse Eisenberg, Isla Fisher, Woody Harrelson, and Dave Fraco really do look like they are having loads of fun in scenes like the interrogation room or the run-away sequence. Their chemistry is really what sells the movie, and I actually left the theater wishing the film would have focused more on their story.

While I’m certainly not the biggest fan of many of director Louis Leterrier‘s films, he knows how to film action sequences and I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention how fun and exciting the action is in this movie were. The most notable set piece is a thrilling chase sequence between Mark Ruffalo and Dave Franco that showed Jack pulling everything out of his bag of tricks in attempt to escape while Dylan played the tough guy. These scenes generally seem organic and are filmed in a way where everything always feels like it’s moving fast. This makes for some clean an gripping action that turn out to be a few of the highlights in the movie.

“Now You See Me” really is a mixed bag of tricks. There were times I was having lots of fun and enjoying the snappy dialog and banter, but then there were times I was incredibly frustrated with the poor plotting and stupidity of Dylan as the main character. The poorly conceived twist at the end wasn’t enough to ruin the movie, but it certainly left a poor taste in my mouth that nearly kept me from enjoying the finer points of the movie. In a summer that is filled with all sorts of expensive blockbuster action, “Now You See Me” feels like a nice little break in the middle of it all that scales things back and brings the fun despite its flaws. If you’re looking for a nice Sunday afternoon Matinee to relax the mind, you can’t go wrong with the fun yet cheap trick of “Now You See Me”

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