NOW YOU SEE ME is a heist movie with magicians and the faintest hint of Occupy Wall Street. What’s not to like? Films about illusionists are generally about bitter rivalry (THE PRESTIGE, THE INCREDIBLE BURT WONDERSTONE, MAGICIANS) or escape attempts that go wrong (any film about Harry Houdini). They lack dramatic momentum. NOW YOU SEE ME cuts to the chase. It has four magicians (Jesse Eisenberg, Isla Fisher, Woody Harrelson and Dave Franco) hired by a mysterious benefactor (Michael Caine) to pull off a bank robbery in France whilst performing in Las Vegas. Then the action moves to New Orleans, and finally to New York. But the rich benefactor, who made his fortune in insurance, doesn’t need the cash. So what’s going on?
That’s right: NOW YOU SEE ME has no governing logic. It has plenty of twists, none of which I’ll explain here, except to say, a hint of the reveal is planted early (a stray line of dialogue, don’t check your cell phone during the performance). It has two lines of pursuit, rather than one: a debunker of magicians (Morgan Freeman) who proves that there is more money in exposing magic frauds than in performing them, and your average mismatched cop and Interpol agent (Mark Ruffalo and Melanie Laurent).
I ask again: why steal 3.2 million euro from a bank in Paris? You do find out the reason, but why isn’t the benefactor interested?
You are glad to Eisenberg and Harrelson paired again after ZOMBIELAND. Again, what’s not to like? Only that they don’t riff off each other very much. You get the introductions: Eisenberg does the whole ‘pick your card, not that one, another one’ routine and reveals the seven of diamonds on the side of a building. Fisher is the escape artist who has to break out of a tank in sixty seconds or several piranha will get her; something goes wrong. She struggles to escape but then piranha are released. Much blood, but what do you know, she is out of the tank complaining about the act. (Not even dripping wet – how is that possible?) Harrelson is a street hustler mentalist who extorts money by revealing evidence of infidelity. Franco is the only one who seems technically incompetent, reduced to stealing a wallet after he is exposed during a spoon bending act. You think the film is about how this group doesn’t get along and then they do. That plot, my friends, is missing.
Each of them is given a tarot card with an address on it. There they meet. Fisher is Eisenberg’s ex. Harrelson tries to seduce here. Franco is Eisenberg’s biggest fan; why not, he was Oscar-nominated for THE SOCIAL NETWORK.
From then on, it’s all about the plot. Such human interest as there is – the phrase applies loosely – is generated by Ruffalo and Laurent. At one point, he thinks she’s a plant and working for the Four Horsemen (our magicians) but when you think back at the scene, it doesn’t make a heap of sense.
There is a playing card buried in a tree and – well, I can say no more. The film presents a belief in real magic as the Holy Grail, but you think surely not.
The car flipping over in the trailer, the culmination of a chase, is unrepresentative of the movie. It is the only time there is a bit that resembles a traditional action movie. What we mostly have are incidents followed by explanations; Ruffalo squaring off with Freeman, Freeman squaring off against Caine. When Freeman goes into voiceover mode, you feel a curious form of comfort.
I was disappointed that the main cast did not have more to do. The ending explains this but when Eisenberg says, ‘We may go to jail for twenty years, but it would have been worth it’ I was not convinced they would be so willing to be cogs in a wheel. I mean, Eisenberg – he was Oscar nominated. I just saw him a few months ago in a play off Broadway. He gets pieces published in THE NEW YORKER, for goodness sake (one in which he gets relationship advice from a well-known sports commentator. NOW YOU SEE ME outperformed AFTER EARTH in its opening weekend. Expect a sequel, NOW YOU DON’T, in the next few years. Or maybe not!
Director: Louis LeTerrier
Screenwriters: Boaz Yakin, Edward Solomon, Edward Ricourt