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Movie Review: Now You See Me

by Bob Garver

June 3, 2013. The trouble with “Now You See Me”, or any other movie about magic, is that you know there’s going to be a huge twist at the end. These movies make you wait until the last minute to find out who was really in control, how they pulled off their ultimate trick, who was being tricked, and indeed what the trick even was. Sometimes the big twist is impressive, usually it isn’t. But it almost always negates a lot of the plot points that came before it. The action may be exciting, but don’t bother following the story, because when the time is right, everything is going to turn topsy-turvy anyway.

A lot of the film’s appeal is in its magicians, so let’s start with them. Jesse Eisenberg plays a glorified street magician who thinks of himself as the smartest man in the world. The magic tricks are the only thing separating the character from Eisenberg’s Mark Zuckerberg. Woody Harrelson is a mentalist who uses hypnosis and body language observations to hustle tourists. Isla Fisher has a stage show where she wears skimpy clothing. Dave Franco is a pickpocket. I know those are lame descriptions, but that’s about as much development as the screenplay gives these characters.

The “Four Horsemen” are brought together by an unknown boss to put on elaborate stage shows where they steal money and give it to their audiences. At a Las Vegas show, they “rob a bank” in Paris and the American crowd is inexplicably delighted to be showered in Euros. In New Orleans they drain the bank account of a wealthy individual. The authorities can only guess what they have in store for their grand finale in New York.

By “authorities”, I’m mostly referring to an FBI agent played by Mark Ruffalo and an Interpol agent played by Melanie Laurent. The two are matched up against their wishes in an investigation into the Horsemen. Ruffalo scoffs at anyone foolish enough to take magic seriously, which makes him a constant target for magic-related humiliation. Laurent is a bit more open-minded and is rewarded by being humiliated only when necessary.

Michael Caine plays the Horsemen’s sponsor, a smug mogul not to be confused with the mysterious boss (or is he?). Morgan Freeman plays a professional magic debunker, also very smug, who helps the FBI only because he likes to show off in front of the Ruffalo character. Of course the boss, once revealed, gets to be very smug since they fooled all the other characters and probably the audience too.

All the impressive shows, tricks, smoke, mirrors, chases and escapes lead up to the reveal of the boss. The movie really takes that old saying “it’s always the one you least suspect” to heart. I seriously think that the writers got to the point in the script where it was time for the big reveal and deliberately chose the least likely solution. It’s a twist for the sake of a twist and it makes no sense when you try to recontextualize the events leading up to it. 

It’s not that I don’t welcome the magic in “Now You See Me”. The performance scenes are one of the few things the movie does right. The tricks are fun and enough of them are explained that it’s okay that the film holds onto a few secrets. The Horsemen are clearly interesting (if smug) people. I’m therefore sad to report that they’re actually in the movie a lot less than the advertising makes it seem, with too much precious screen time going to the dull Ruffalo and Laurent characters. The film is barely entertaining as it comes to a close, and then there’s that boneheaded twist ending. I don’t expect the audience to “disappear” from this movie, but I believe they’ll walk away unhappy.

One and a Half Stars out of Five.

“Now You See Me” is rated PG-13 for language, some action and sexual content. Its running time is 116 minutes.