Remember a few years ago (okay, 2006) when magician movies were the big thing? Imagine the approach to the technique of magic from films like The Prestige paired with the pace and action of a heist movie. Now You See Me attempts to dazzle audiences with this combination, but ultimately fails to really pull it off.
In Now You See Me, four street magicians with different specialties—J. Daniel Atlas (Jesse Eisenberg), Merritt McKinney (Woody Harrelson), Henley Reeves (Isla Fisher), and Jack Wilder (Dave Franco)--are brought together by mysterious tarot cards for a mission for an unknown party. A year later, they're The Four Horsemen, performing to a sold-out crowd in Las Vegas, sponsored by insurance millionaire Arthur Tressler (Michael Caine). When they rob a French bank in the finale of their Vegas show, the magicians come under investigation by FBI agent Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo) and Interpol detective Alma Dray (Melanie Laurent), as well as Thaddeus Bradley (Morgan Freeman), a man who makes millions debunking magic tricks. As their tour continues to New Orleans and New York, The Four Horsemen continue to outsmart the FBI and raise the stakes and the cost of their tricks.
I mostly found Now You See Me frustrating and disappointing. The concept of the film is really fun, but the execution doesn't make good on it. It has the aesthetic of Ocean's Eleven or The Italian Job with the added mystery of magic. Plus, the inclusion of Thaddeus Bradley's voice of logic creates a balance that makes the magic even more interesting, especially for skeptics. The film also draws on the classic pairing of a believer with a skeptic in the investigative duo of the FBI and Interpol. It's a little on the nose, but the dynamic between Rhodes and Dray works to give some heart to the FBI's difficulty investigating magicians.
On the other hand, the organization of the story is a little muddled and the focus feels imbalanced between the investigators and the magicians. Additionally, because the audience is reminded consistently that magic is just misdirection or focused deception and that the closer you look the less you'll see, it becomes pretty clear that the whole story is a misdirection and the audience is being played as well. A big part of the fun of the movie was anticipating the big twist. When it arrived, however, I wasn't really satisfied. The twist is set up well, with clues scattered throughout the story, but the presentation is lackluster and the ending feels tacked on. Basically, I think Now You See Me could have been a great magic movie if the screenplay had been a little more balanced and better structured. The parts are there, but they come together sloppily.
The acting in the film is solid. Aside from a few moments in which the dialogue is clunky, Isla Fisher, Woody Harrelson, and Jesse Eisenberg have more than enough stage presence to pull off a Vegas magic show. Dave Franco gets a little lost in the mix, but I think that's more because his character tends toward a background role. In contrast, I had a hard time remembering that Morgan Freeman was playing the antagonist and he really seems to phone the role in. I think the casting directors just found a cast of actors with amazing voices. Between Fisher, Eisenberg, Caine and Freeman the film is a feast for the ears.
Despite the outstanding acting and generally good concept, Now You See Me lacks the follow through to really make it a good movie. I rate it 2.5/5 stars.
Now You See Me was written by Ed Solomon, Boaz Yakin, and Edward Ricourt and directed by Louis Leterrier. It runs 116 minutes and is rated PG-13 for language, some action and sexual content.