Four magicians are summoned together to form a group magical Super Friends in the new caper flick Now You See Me, the latest pop hash from French director Louis Leterrier (Transporter 2, Clash of the Titans).
This movie begins winningly enough, showing Woody Harrelson as a blackmailing mentalist, Jesse Eisenberg as a street magician, Isla Fisher as an escape artist, and the other guy as a pickpocketing con artist. (The Other Guy, as it turns out is Dave Franco, James Franco’s younger brother. I guess that’s a thing now.)
All four are called together by a mysterious puppet-master, and when we get past the intro, it’s been a year and they’ve formed an uber-magic-team in Las Vegas, whose grand trick is going to be robbing a bank on stage.
This part is entertaining enough, although a kind-of ersatz Oceans 11, that tells you right off the bat that the movie is going to be able to pull off anything because, you know, the characters planned everything so far in advance.
But that’s okay, that’s pretty standard fare for a caper flick. Less okay is that our four character pretty much vanish at this point as characters, as the movie switches to focus on determined, if not too bright, FBI detective Mark Ruffalo. He’s watching Internet celebrity Morgan Freeman, who makes a living revealing magic secrets, but he’s none too keen on billionaire Michael Caine either, who the four celebrate as their “benefactor”.
Also, French beauty Melanie Laurent (Inglorious Basterds, Beginners) is an Interpol agent because, why not?
In other words, there’s a whole lotta plot getting in the way of the story here, which would’ve been fine if the film didn’t also turn into an action flick at the end of the second act. Actually, you can tell there’s going to be trouble early on in the first act, when Ruffalo is grilling the four magicians. In a Gilligan’s Island-style “…and the rest” moment, we only see him grilling Eisenberg and Harrelson, with Fisher and Franco apparently not having anything interesting to say.
What this means is, by the end of the third act, you barely remember who the four characters are and you can’t really much care. The resolution is preposterous of course, and the denouement both needlessly mystical and a clear set-up for a television series, but I did not guess it.
Although I guessed the motive tying all the crimes together instantly, I did not guess the perpetrator. Actually, my guess was slightly less preposterous than what they actually went with but, like a bad mystery, they could’ve used my ending (and might have had it in mind at one point) without actually having to change a damn thing in the movie (apart from the reveal, of course).
The Flower liked it quite a bit, which doesn’t surprise me. It was entertaining and the twists-and-turns were relatively fresh for her. The Boy and I also liked it, he less than I, though we had similar problems with it.
Two issues grated on me: At one point, an electronic bank heist is done, moving money between accounts (through magic I guess). But that’s just silly. You can physically rob a bank because money has no intrinsic ownership record. There’s no difference between the $20 bill you earn and the $20 you steal, which is how all robberies work.
You can’t do that electronically. You. Just. Can’t. All you’ve done is make work for people in the bank’s IT department, as they roll back transactions. Guaran-damn-teed, banks do this every day.
I think this was my big issue because it suggests that the writers and audiences are content to take a “well, it’s magic” view of the world they actually live in. It’s that kind of thinking that leads to “Let’s make a trillion dollar coin!”
The other thing is a long standing pet peeve that was more an annoyance for me (though it irked Boy something fierce). If you’ve ever seen a classic “Scooby Doo” cartoon, the set up was always the same: Something spooky was happening which, at the end, was shown to be the application of ordinary technology.
But, even as a five-year-old, I was unwilling to buy the idea that a movie projector could make a ghost convincing enough to fool anyone. It’s a big ol’ cheat.
This movie “Scooby Doo"s it by injecting CGI into the magicians’ tricks. Unnecessary and completely fake looking. Plenty of great magicians could’ve pulled off effects similar to what was wanted, and at times it just felt lazy.
That was my main gripe. The Boy, on the other hand, felt his suspension of disbelief kept getting disrupted by the increasingly preposterous situations we’re expected to believe in order to pretend this is something other than "movie magic” (vs. the stage kind).
There were other annoyances, too, but I can’t get into them without spoilers and I’ve already bitched enough. It’s not bad. It just seems like movies are demanding that we switch off our brains more and more and for longer and longer periods.