Star-packed crime caper film Now You See Me plunges us into the world of glitzy, big-budget magic shows normally occupied by the likes of David Copperfield and Siegfried and Roy.
In a fun but extremely far-fetched storyline, four famed magicians J. Daniel Atlas (Jesse Eisenberg), Henley Leeves (Isla Fisher), Merrit McKinney (Woody Harrelson) and Jack Wilder (Dave Franco) are recruited by a mysterious and unseen figure to perform elaborate, Vegas-style magic shows under the moniker of The Four Horseman. The difference here is that, incorporated into each trick, is a massive heist from either a bank or ruthless rich guy with the money redistributed Robin Hood-style to the audience. On their trail are dogged, dishevelled FBI agent Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo) and his new partner, French Interpol agent Alma Dray (Melanie Laurent).
With a plot that delights in the use of deception and misdirection, it’s hardly surprising that the film plays with the audience’s perception of reality. Part of the fun is trying to spot the red herrings and cinematic sleight of hand that might give away what’s really happening. Maintaining the film’s various deceptions while remaining realistic is a tricky business and this film seriously stretches credulity with some astonishing co-incidences and highly questionable behaviour from some characters. The FBI will no doubt be livid with the way they are depicted here as they seem to be more incompetent than the guards in Hogan’s Heroes.
A big stumbling block for this film is that – Isla Fisher’s clever, perky escape-artist aside – The Four Horsemen aren’t very likeable. Eisenberg’s is as irritatingly smug and arrogant as he was in The Social Network but at least in that film we weren’t supposed to like him whereas we are here. Dave Franco’s Jack Wilder is more like a high school alpha male jock rather than a quirky hero in a caper movie. Woody Harrelson is occasionally amusing here but he once again plays the same knowing, cynical character he has portrayed since he was Woody on Cheers.
Oddly, or perhaps understandably, these four are sidelined for much of the film as it concentrates on Rhode’s investigation and fractious relationship with mysterious agent Dray. Ruffalo, who seems a shoe-in for the title role in a Columbo movie given how many times he’s played a crumpled cop, brings his usual rough-hewn charm to the role of Rhodes while Laurent brings strength and a mysterious icy quality to agent Dray. The supporting cast contains a surfeit of riches with Michael Caine in a brief but potent role as a wealthy businessman connected to the Four Horsemen and Morgan Freeman, a little creepier than normal, as a skeptic who may hold the key to capturing them.
The film employs a big, glossy over-the-top visual style that suits the Vegas milieu but often makes it cluttered and confusing. Also, the film at times has the technicolour sheen and clinical feeling of detachment that made Pacific Rim almost unwatchable.
Now You See Me is a clever and at times enjoyably puzzling film but hardly a riveting or emotionally engaging one. More-focused direction and a more sympathetic cast could have made this inventive and intriguing film much more satisfying.
Nick’s rating: Two and a half stars.
Director(s): Louis Leterrier.
Release date: 8th Aug 2013.
Running time: 115 mins.
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