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MOVIES: Now You See Me – And I Wish I Hadn’t – Review

“Look closely. Because the closer you look, the less you’ll actually see.” This is the refrain that pops up again and again in Now You See Me, director Louis Leterrier’s latest assault on audiences’ eyes and intellects. The frequency with which the words are repeated is akin to a verbal tick that Leterrier (the mind behind disasterpieces like The Incredible Hulk and Clash of the Titans) just can’t suppress no matter how hard he tries. There is nothing subtle about Leterrier’s style of filmmaking so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that his approach to the art of magic and illusion is all spectacle and no substance.

In order to suffer through to the end of Now You See Me, a great deal of brainpower must be exerted to suspend enough disbelief to make the plot bearable. Under mysterious circumstances, four magicians at various stages in their careers are brought together to dazzle audiences in a way no other magic act has done before. J. Daniel Atlas (Jesse Eisenberg) is the cocky showman; Merritt McKinney (Woody Harrelson) is the former celebrity now circling the professional drain; Henley Reeves (Isla Fisher) is the sexy escape artist (and Atlas’ former assistant); and Jack Wilder (Dave Franco) is the streetwise sleight-of-hand master who is equal parts magician and thief.

As the Four Horsemen, they stage the greatest magic show Las Vegas has ever seen: they rob a bank in France right in front of the audience’s eyes. This draws the attention of the Vegas branch of the FBI in the form of too-tired-for-this Agent Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo). He is saddled with a French Interpol agent named Alma Dray (Melanie Laurent) who arrives in the States just hours after the heist takes place. With the help of professional magician debunker Thaddeus Bradley (Morgan Freeman), Dylan and Alma are able to figure out how the foursome pulled off the bank robbery just in time to for them to head to Baton Rouge to do it all over again. This time, though, they are playing with the money of their financier Arthur Tressler (Michael Caine) who doesn’t take kindly to his bank account being drained.

While the movie as a whole is an over bloated exercise in ego-stroking, credit must be given to Leterrier and screenwriters Ed Solomon, Boaz Yakin and Edward Ricourt for at least attempting to make a movie that isn’t a prequel, sequel, remake or adaptation of a 1970s television show. Creativity and originality are severely lacking in Hollywood so Leterrier & Co. deserve respect for that aspect of their endeavor.

Everything else, though, is as unconvincing as a five-year-old who just learned a card trick and can’t wait to show it off at Christmas. Leterrier’s biggest mistake – aside from his almost obsessive use of CGI, which will be addressed presently – was casting Michael Caine who played a major character in Christopher Nolan’s brilliant film The Prestige. It’s impossible not to draw comparisons between the two films, one of which should be taught as a master class in filmmaking and one which will very soon line the five-dollar DVD bin at Wal-Mart. Did the thought not even cross Leterrier’s mind? Very little did, apparently, since he is clearly oblivious to his movie’s enormous plot holes and contradictions. It doesn’t become clear until about halfway through the movie whether the performers are just really, really good at illusions –and extremely lucky – or if they have been given some type of supernatural powers. We don’t know because Leterrier doesn’t seem to know.

That’s another problem with the movie: it has no consistent tone or inherent reality. As it turns out, the magic acts are all just illusions, but they would be impossible to pull off in real life. The Prestige worked so well because Nolan relied on practical effects to make the magic happen. We believed it because we saw how it could happen. Leterrier has unlimited CGI artists at his disposal and so the most absurd tricks can be and are created. Magic astounds us because we know it isn’t really magic, the magician is just really talented. In Now You See Me, though, the performers might as well just breathe underwater or walk through fire.

Luckily, the cast makes the pain a little easier to handle. Eisenberg gives Atlas the perfect amount of smugness that would be annoying if he weren’t so good at what he does. Eisenberg and Harrelson almost have a few scenes with some really good banter that would have been a welcome reminder of their first on-screen appearance together in Zombieland. Franco is sorely underutilized as the only actor who looks to even have bothered practicing misdirection and sleight-of-hand. Fisher is given no character and even less clothes to wear and is the only weak spot (though it is not her fault). Ruffalo gives probably the best performance though it’s almost a three-way tie with Freeman and Caine. These actors deserve better, but at least they appear to be enjoying themselves.

Now You See Me has about as much mystery and suspense as the Home Shopping Network and wastes its incredibly talented cast on a trite script that is too busy trying to prove how smart it is instead of asking “Does this make any sense?”.

Grade: D

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