With several familiar faces behind the veil of magic and illusion offered up in Louis Leterrier’s latest film, “Now You See Me” sets out on a Robin Hood-inspired cat and mouse chase that replaces the arrow slinging hero with high budget spectacle and a charismatic group of magicians simply known as The Four Horsemen. Opening with a series of magical acts that successfully highlight the group’s variance in expertise, the power of the cast and visual effects are initially captivating enough to settle viewers in for the greater, sometimes inexplicable, scheme that unfolds. Yet, despite its flashy introduction, and a handful of well-timed one liners compliments of Jesse Eisenberg and Woody Harrelson, the film soon spirals into a laundry list of plot conveniences and empty characters that are only topped by a final, grand illusion that fails to illicit awe or any real reaction at all.
As each is summoned to a pre-determined, secret location by a well known member of the secret society known as The Eye, Daniel Atlas (Jesse Eisenberg), Henley Reeves (Isla Fisher), Jack Wilder (Dave Franco), and Merritt Osbourne (Woody Harrelson) are gathered together and notified of their selection for The Eye’s next grand illusion. With blueprints and instructions in hand, the newly minted Four Horsemen oversee a series of large scale heists that attract the attention of FBI agent, Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo) and Interpol agent, Alma Vargas (Melanie Laurent), who are brought on to investigate and uncover the mysteries behind The Four Horsemen’s magic.
“Because the more you think you see…”
While the film seemingly starts off with an eye towards its ensemble cast and the amazing feats they incorporate into their acts, following the lengthy introduction of these characters is a sudden shift in focus to Dylan Rhodes and Alma Vargas. “Now You See Me” is very much a detective story that’s often more preoccupied with discovering the identity of the unknown Fifth Horsemen, who’s directing the other four, than anything the other cast members might be doing. Given that the plot points demand such a suspension of disbelief, this results in a choppy narrative that often leads to one scene blending into another as Rhodes hustles about, trying to make an arrest.
The subsequent monotony of the plot is only intermediately broken up by the central magic acts that string the story along and hold the plot together. Unfortunately, along with requiring a high suspension of disbelief, many of the film’s later illusions distinctly lack the sense of creativity that made the earlier ones work so well. Rather than feeling enchanted or caught off guard by any of the work being done by these apparently noteworthy magicians, the big reveals made in both tricks and plot become far too predictable.
“Who doesn’t love a good magic trick?”
The disproportionate amount of attention given to overly detailed explanations and the film’s visuals unfortunately leaves its all star cast with very little to work with. The Four Horsemen each bring just enough to their characters to leave the impression that there is something more to them. Their dynamic, pasts, and individual quirks are often offhandedly referenced or brought out through the sheer actions of the actors themselves. Yet, as more time passes, it soon becomes apparent that there is simply nothing to any of them. What we’re presented with are largely one-dimensional characters who fail to project the mastery that the plot so badly wants us to see. Similarly, Ruffalo and Laurent both carry their roles well but also eventually fall flat.
Perhaps with a steadier hand and more thoughtful direction, “Now You See Me” could have reached its potential and been a truly exciting heist with a colourful cast of characters. As it stands, however, its misguided plot, flat performances, and uninspired magical feats leave us with a film that is wholeheartedly average. While it’s entertaining enough to while away a summer afternoon, “Now You See Me” is a prime example of a film that’s gotten too caught up in its own use of misdirection.