A mysterious, hooded figure assembles the ultimate illusionist dream team in Louis Leterrier’s Now You See Me – a frustratingly flawed thriller which, despite an entertaining first half and strong cast, ultimately loses its way and ends up with very little up its sleeve.
Jesse Eisenberg is up-and-coming magician J. Daniel Atlas, the gang’s charismatic and cocky leader with an irritating lack of eyebrow control. Then there’s Woody Harrelson, who injects some much needed laughter as old-timer hypnotist and master of mind-tricks, Merrit McKinney. Isla Fisher brings the sex appeal as Atlas’s glamorous former assistant Henley Reeves, and Dave Franco is the young, wily and street-wise Jack Wilder; whose main trick appears to be his ability to throw cards really fast. When they all receive a card from ancient magical order ‘The Eye’, the quartet joins forces and, thanks to the financial clout of millionaire benefactor Arthur Tressler, played by the legendary Michael Caine, they become the Four Horsemen – Las Vegas’ hottest new magicians (move over Penn & Teller).
After staging an elaborate trick which sees the Horsemen apparently teleport a male member of their audience to France, where he helps them rob a Parisian bank, FBI agent Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo) is assigned to distinguish between spellbinding showmanship and the potentially criminal reality. He is partnered with French Interpol agent Alma Dray, played by Inglourious Basterds star Melanie Laurent, who has a slightly suspicious fascination with the magical arts. Rhodes and Dray enlist the assistance of former-magician, turned TV debunker of illusions, Thaddeus Bradley (Morgan Freeman) to help them make sense of the Four Horsemen’s impressive heist. Sounds good so far, right?
Unfortunately, this very exciting premise soon makes way for a ludicrous second act, with an overly complex plot, that ends up tying itself in more knots than a balloon animal. Now You See Me is at its best when it focuses on the exploits of the Horsemen and their growing camaraderie; with the witty and often snarky performance of Harrelson as McKinney being particularly enjoyable. Their glitzy stage shows, in spite of occasionally dubious special effects that remove some of the intended magic, are also thrilling and compelling spectacles. However, the film then proceeds to abandon the things it was doing so well in favour of some unnecessary, action-packed fight scenes and a high-speed car chase.
Attention also shifts from the four magicians and onto the less interesting investigations of the seemingly hapless Agent Rhodes, who is always several steps behind the Horsemen and constantly made to look ridiculously incapable of doing his job. There is also very little on-screen chemistry between Ruffalo and Laurent, which causes their inevitable romance subplot to feel awkward and contrived. The film seems to think it’s cleverer than it actually is, and the unexpected and frankly laughable ending is surprising for all the wrong reasons.
Most great magic shows leave the audience exiting the theatre with a plethora of tantalising questions; Now You See Me provides only disappointing answers.
by Gary Woodcock