Directed by Louis Leterrier, Now You See Me begins with the introductions of four illusionists vying to become the next master magician.
J. Daniel Atlas (Jesse Eisenberg) is a fast-talking street performer. Henley Reeves (Isla Fisher) is Atlas’ former assistant who has gone on to be a death-defying escape artist.
Merritt Osbourne (Woody Harrelson) is a mentalist and hypnotist who uses his gift as a con artist, and Jack Wilder (Dave Franco) relies on his sleight of hand and lock-picking skills for pickpocketing and petty theft.
The four are summoned to a secret location via mysterious invitations, and a year later they resurface as a Las Vegas mega-act known as the Four Horsemen, where their big finale involves an teleportation device that leads to an international heist, stealing millions in euros from a French bank.
Michael Caine co-stars Arthur Tressler, the Horsemen’s benefactor who finds himself entangled with Thaddeus Bradley (Morgan Freeman), a professional rival who makes his living exposing the secrets of illusions.
Harrelson’s mentalist provides many of the film’s laughs while Ruffalo, Caine, and Freeman give the flimsy premise weight with their strong performances. Eisenberg, however, is less of a magician and more of an impressionist, channeling The Social Network‘s Mark Zuckerberg once more for his David Blaine-esque street magician who’s too smart for his own good.
It’s clear that Now You See Me, written by Ed Solomon, Boaz Yakin, and Edward Ricourt, wants to be a mash-up of Christopher Nolan’s The Prestige and Steven Soderbergh’s Oceans Trilogy. The problem is, the film is filled with computer-generated impossibilities that undermine the narrative’s aim: to make you believe in magic.
Every trick has a computer-generated element to it. Instead of simply draping a box in a bit of silk, Isla Fisher’s character unleashes a swirling, pixelated mess of fabric animated with pinpoint precision, like Superman’s cape in those Man of Steel trailers.
Now You See Me moves at a breakneck pace as to keep your brain distracted from the fact that it doesn’t really make much sense. There are shallow, surface-level explanations for why the Horsemen are committing crimes, but they never really amount to anything beyond “Oh, so that’s why that happened.” After an interesting (but implausible) climax, the film fizzles out – delivering additional (unnecessary) exposition to make sure everyone in the audience understands the already simplistic story.
Leterrier’s film deserves a little bit of credit, however, for being an original non-franchise release in the middle of a summer filled with big-budget blockbusters. It’s perfectly adequate entertainment that mainstream audiences will enjoy for its easily accessible story and a cast filled with old favorites like Harrelson, Caine, and Freeman.
Now You See Me is a forgettable caper that’s mostly smoke and mirrors. You could do a lot worse this summer (The Hangover Part III, After Earth), but if you’re a moviegoer on a budget don’t let Leterrier and his super-squad of thieving magicians rob you of a few bucks that could be better spent revisiting The Prestige or Nolan’s equally intriguing heist film, Inception.