Now You See MeReviewed By Erik Childress
Posted 05/31/13 08:00:00
The Prestige is a film that deserves to come up a lot while discussing Louis Leterrier's high-concept tale of magic and robbers. Michael Caine's presence aside, the film's constant reminder for the audience to be "watching closely" is repeated more often than Christopher Nolan had time to call back that particular viewing hint. Beyond that though, film being the magic trick that it is has a tough time conveying the excitement and pleasure of the sideshow artform since one quick edit is the equivalent of pulling the wool over the audience's eyes. We love being genuinely fooled at the movies just as we enjoy the "how did they do that" experience of watching a skilled magician. What we do not appreciate is being taken for a fool, especially in the smug, self-satisfied and non-sensical way that Now You See Me attempts to get by anyone with working eyeballs and an even more functional brain.As with any all-star cast assembling for a heist picture, a prologue introduces us to the crew put together by a mysterious hooded figure with a variety of tarot cards. Michael Atlas (Jesse Eisenberg) is a street magician who uses his talents to get laid. His former assistant, Henley (Isla Fisher), is now an escape artist. Merritt Osbourne (Woody Harrelson) is a mentalist hustling for cash as is spoon-bender and petty thief (Dave Franco). A year later - with help from benefactorArthur Tressler (Caine) - their big plan is in motion starting with an elaborate ruse in Las Vegas where they seemingly teleport an audience member to his bank in Paris and unleash a barrage of cash into the stadium.
Turns out it was more than just another trick when the bank's vault is revealed to be empty. Called in to investigate is Dylan Hobbs (Mark Ruffalo) whose strongarm tactics do not phase their unusual suspects. Brought in to help is wet-behind-the-ears Interpol agent, Alma Vargas (Mélanie Laurent), and the man who has made a career out of exposing magicians' secrets. Thaddeus Bradley (Morgan Freeman) was in the audience that night, being asked to put away his camera when the next show freely invites all forms of video and social media. Whether its the money he makes on a ridiculously lucrative online download or the pleasure of believing he's the smartest man in the room, Thaddeus takes a gleeful approach to breaking down the scheme of The Four Horsemen; delightfully informing Dylan that everything is leading up to a grand finale.
If only paying customers watching Now You See Me could actually believe that statement. As you try to decipher what the ultimate goal of all the characters are, it is easy to get sidetracked into determining where the film's actual goals lie. Christopher McQuarrie described his screenplay to The Usual Suspects as "a big, well-structured magic trick" and the similarities between it and the one concocted and re-concocted by Edward Ricourt, Boaz Yakin and Ed Solomon are notable. From the hard-nosed detective trying to piece together the puzzle to the mystery man pulling the strings, a comparison to Bryan Singer's film would be a compliment if it was not sure an insult the other way around.
The heroes and anti-heroes of heist pictures from Ocean's Eleven to The Italian Job (and their remakes) just to name a few had personalities, even if only on a one-dimensional level. Now You See Me seems to be relying on the simple presence of so many recognizable faces to fill in the gaping blanks on precisely where the rooting or caring interest lies. The magicians seem to have good intentions on their side despite the lot of them never developing more than the selfish personas we meet in the first ten minutes. Whatever preparation these hustlers were put through in the year prior, not only did it involve concocting the tricks but also how to be world-class thieves, stunt drivers and parkour pugilists.
Meanwhile, Ruffalo's detective must have spent that same year perfecting being annoyed at every aspect of his job. With his character as the film's real center, his point of view of disbelief and mistrust of seemingly everyone he encounters is thrust onto the audience who has already been given a few cards up their sleeves that already puts us several notches ahead. The ill-conceived prologue immediately alerts us to a puppet master. Just as Freeman's magic spoiler gives us the secrets of how they did it, the more important "why" is given merely one possible solution and the complicated stupidity of that motivation builds to a headsmacking conclusion that is truly the final insult.Now You See Me preaches that in the world of magic it helps to be the smartest person in the room. Nearly anyone with a pair of eyes qualifies. "Are you watching closely?" uttered regularly in The Prestige is given its own generic makeover here while the magic tricks performed could only be achieved with the naked CGI of cinema. How can we trust a movie that does not trust our internal logic about what is actually possible in the real world on a stage. Any justification for breaking the fourth wall towards the audience and presenting the whole enterprise as some direct show for us still cannot uphold the rules of the real world in which the film takes place. Characters acting in a false manner to others just to fool some imaginary third party who may be looking on like The Purple Rose of Cairo is as bad as a living room magician from pre-school telling their spectators to close their eyes while they go hide the ball. Only not as cute.
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