“Now You See Me” Movie Review

     “Now You See Me” is one of those films that tries real hard to be clever and for the first hour and a half you just go with it, hoping there’s a worthy payoff at the end.  There is a payoff, and even if it’s one you may not expect, it’s a cop out.  The kind of ending similar to M. Night Shyamalan’s “The Village” where your eyes roll as you blurt out “That’s It?”.  I got the feeling the screenwriters had this great idea, but suffered from writer’s block when they reached the final ten pages.  With several notable action films under his belt, director Louis Leterrier (“The Transporter”, “The Incredible Hulk”, “Clash of the Titans”) moves to a different genre and the results are mixed.  Ever present is his trademark flashy style as the film is chalk full of music video style cuts and dizzying camera movement.  This style lends well to the material since it distracts you from paying attention close enough to see through the giant plot holes ahead.

     Leterrier has assembled a fine young cast backed with several solid veteran actors.  Each are easy to buy in their respective roles, especially Jesse Eisenberg, who spits out his lines like a machine gun in the same smug way he did in “The Social Network”.  Eisenberg plays J. Daniel Atlas, a street magician looking to someday make it big.  His former assistant, Henley (Isla Fisher), has moved on to her own underground show, mixing death defying stunts with horror film style consequences.  Merritt McKinney (Woody Harrelson) is a hypnotist, specializing in hustling people once they admit wrongdoings, such as adultery, while under his spell.  Rounding out the team is Jack Wilder (Dave Franco), a street performer with a penchant for pick pocketing.  The foursome are brought together by a mysterious cloaked man and one year later, they are appearing as Vegas headliner’s “The Four Horseman”.

     In their first performance, their final trick has them teleport an audience member from Vegas to a bank vault in Paris.  As the money in the vault is sucked into a ventilation system, the money comes out of the ventilation system in the show room and falls on the cheering crowd.  I’m certain no one in the audience questions how $3 million falls in their laps, but it doesn’t take long before the FBI becomes interested.  The group is taken into custody the next day and questioned, but later released.  Befuddled, Agent Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo) ilicits the help of a magician debunker named Thaddeus Bradley (Morgan Freeman), who claims he can explain how The Four Horseman robbed the Paris bank.

     The story moves on from the performer’s first show as Leterrier stages another show in addition to the obligatory foot and vehicle chase scenes he must feel are standard for a summer film, even if those sequences are a bit out of place here.  The most effective of these sequences pits Rhodes against Wilder in a hand to hand fight scene where Wilder uses magic (choreographed distraction) against his adversary.  Likely the most creative sequence in the entire film, I wish Leterrier would’ve included more of this, instead of falling back on one car chasing another through the streets of New York City.  Essentially what we have with The Four Horseman is a modern day retelling of a “Robin Hood” story, as each move by the group seems to pay back those in need, rather than have any noticeable financial gain for them.  The rich financier of the group, Arthur Tressler (Michael Caine), appears to be in it to make money, but you wonder early why someone like him would be involved with people who seem to be committing crime in order to help the poor.  These questions are answered throughout the third act, but again, the secret the film guards until the end doesn’t have the impact you likely will be hoping for.

     Films like “Now You See Me” are a tough nut to crack for filmmakers since the premise deals with magic, yet it’s tough to discern which visuals are meant as illusion via the magicians or meant as special effect by the filmmakers.  With the crime film attributes mixed in, what this story really becomes is another rehash of the “Ocean’s Eleven” plot device where the audience is being distracted away from what’s going on behind the scenes.  I don’t mind the use of this now common plot convention, but there has to be some give and take.  “Now You See Me” was all take and left me feeling a bit shafted when it was all said and done.  GRADE: C-