Movie Review: Now You See Me- A Disorganized and Illogical Caper That Possesses an Energetic Setup but Lacks a Graceful Execution

Now-You-See-Me-21True deceptive mastery required to pull off unbelievable illusions, either in the form of cinematic magic or an average sleight of hand trick, is certainly hard to acquire, especially in the overstated world of entertainment where audience coddling in the form of familiar delivery or poorly conceived plots is the norm. Part of performing a trick is having the charismatic poise to match the visual grace of the actual con, which in the filmmaking sense means that there needs to be a self-assured energy to the presentation of a plot’s characters, story progression, and most importantly the twists. Unfortunately the performers concocting the cinematic magic in the film Now You See Me—an odd blend of a heist caper, mystery thriller, and magic spectacle—don’t possess the finale grace that is needed to follow through on their initial energetic setup leaving behind a rather flimsy house of cards that tumbles with the slightest introduction of logic. Though director Louis Leterrier attempts to distract the audience with mildly creative ploys and charming performances from his cast the weight of all the implausible events and the superficiality of the script creates a film that is like a poorly designed trick with a decent setup and terrible execution. “The closer you look the less you’ll see” might be the tagline for Now You See Me but it’s also the most suitable description relating to how if you truly do look closely into this high-energy yet completely disorganized thriller you’ll find that the real trick was making the film seem as though it were coherent, suspenseful, or a guilty avenue for fun when it really possesses none of those qualities. The script frantically oscillates between overstated suggestion, predictable twists, and an overabundance of visual distractions but the audience will only be left with an empty satisfaction witnessing an expensive trick without the true awe-inspiring bewilderment that should always accompany magic. Now You See Me doesn’t have the power, charm, or impact that even a basic magic act should possess making this film about as fleeting as the actions occurred under a forced hypnotized state but unfortunately cannot be forgotten.

Now You See Me’s script, penned by Ed Solomon, Boaz Yakin, and Edward Ricourt, is one of those tiring exercises in cramming in as many veiled distractions and borrowed plot devices in order to not be bothered with inconveniences such as character motivation, plot logic, or overall purpose. It reads as though it’s cheap rendition of the film’s obvious superior influences with the heist elements clearly taken from Ocean’s 11 without keeping the clear heist motivation or stylistic charm and some of the more outlandish illusion elements taken from The Prestige without that film’s intelligence and foreboding ambiance. At the core of the plot for Now You See Me there is a mystery link that brings together four different specialized magicians including the arrogant illusionist J. Daniel Atlas (Jesse Eisenberg), the washed up, know-it-all mentalist Merritt McKinney (Woody Harrelson), the lively and risky escape artist Henley Reeves (Isla Fisher), and street con artist Jack Wilder (Dave Franco). These undeveloped characters that lack zero motivation or organic decision making call themselves the Four Horseman and perform widely publicized illusions that range from bank robbery to the shallow Robin Hood giveaways of rich people’s cash. Their antics nab the focus of a few people beyond their show’s exploitative financier Arthur Tressler (Michael Caine) mainly FBI agent Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo) and his forced partner from Interpol Alma Dray (Melanie Laurent) as well as ex-magician turned exposer Thaddeus Bradley (Morgan Freeman). Despite the occasionally sharp dialogue between the characters and an intriguing setup in its first twenty minutes what eventually unfolds in Now You See Me is all too familiar giving us a poorly conceived, scatterbrained thriller that never builds its suspense but rather expects you to be fascinated with the basics. Because none of the characters ever feel as though they’re grounded in any sort of reality, fantastical or otherwise, they become little more than one dimensional cutouts propped up nicely to keep the motion of the story propelling forward. Now You See Me has a numbing emptiness at the ends of its story because thrillers need an invested interest in their characters and shouldn’t just focus on their obligatory twists that have repetitive hints and neon signs pointing to its own cleverness. Unfortunately the story and the direction is only concerned with the fascination of distraction and the gimmickry of the illusion instead of the substance or context that is required to make it truly interesting.

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Most of the emptiness that’s felt at Now You See Me’s conclusion can be attributed to the fact that a majority of the on camera tricks are not actually being performed and the substitution of CGI makes it all the more obvious that everything is not as it seems. Louis Letterier isn’t unfamiliar with the realm of special effects since he’s directed fine examples of cinematic magic such as Clash of the Titans, the unnecessary reboot of The Incredible Hulk, and two of the Transporter movies. Viewing that filmography it isn’t exactly surprising that his latest film is an equally disorganized mess both in its energy counteracting its rhythm and the implausible rivaling the need for some basic logic. The chaos behind the camera movements seems to lack inspiration as the acrobatics are utilized not to enhance the experience but rather disorient you making it difficult to understand where you are in particular chase sequences or what’s even at stake. Letterier has no sense of wonderment to the tricks he presents on screen because his only concern is whether or not they are beautiful enough to serve as an appropriate distraction from the script’s shallowness and the story’s blatant weaknesses. For a thriller about magic it’s quite ironic that the Leterrier goes out of his way to demystify every single parlor trick that is presented on screen which creates an abysmal pacing for the film as a whole but also goes against the whole idea of the wonderment of magic, especially when a majority of the reveals are done with CGI. Another reason this thriller doesn’t have that suspenseful of an impact is the choice to overstate the possible people who might be behind the entire plot’s schemes making it practically impossible not to accurately guess the inevitable twist that lacks invention and intrigue. Letterier might know a thing or two about intense action or even marveling special effects but when it comes to developing a solid foundation for his characters or presenting a plot without the use of visual distractions it’s clear he’s not the greatest storyteller or practical filmmaking magician. Disorganized direction coupled with a cliché ridden script makes it an uphill battle even for charismatic acting veterans to attempt bringing credibility to an already weighted down film, and though most of the actors are wasted in potential they do at least bring an ounce of personality.

When glancing at the combined star power that Now You See Me boasts in its stretched out poster or extended trailer credits it’s difficult to imagine that every single one of these actors, ranging from immensely talented to charismatic at the bare minimum, would end up disappointing you in the end. Unfortunately that ends up being the reality for the final product as each actor labors to fill in the character gaps in the script and at the same time fight against the films own propulsion into the realm of ridiculousness. The leading four from Jesse Eisenberg to Isla Fisher work best when they’re on the screen together where their egos, personal grievances, and acting talents all go head to head but that chemistry is severely wasted as there are only a few moments where they aren’t on stage hamming it up for their in film audience crowds. The potential for Jesse and Woody Harrelson to carry on their familiar chemistry from working on Zombieland together is another wasted avenue that only provides a mere seconds worth of humorous material. Mark Ruffalo might have the most on screen time as the dirtiest FBI agent ever to grace the academy and though he has a delightful presence on the screen, as well as natural chemistry with Melanie Laurent, there doesn’t seem to be an actual character for him to explore but instead has been advised to appear incompetent, drunk, or angry. One of Letterier’s most ill-advised illusions in this film is the process of making the on screen talents of Morgan Freeman and Sir Michael Caine wither away before our very eyes as they are used as famous props instead of genuine acting legends. Since there was no work put into the script to give these written characters any possible interpretive expansion and no actual breathing room in the frenetic pace for the actors to let loose with their interpretations Now You See Me becomes another one of those summer flicks that wastes talent instead of utilizing it to its advantage.

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Despite the initial setup in Now You See Me, an appropriate combination of humorous personalities and intriguing mystery, the film inevitably loses this fair tone and pace when the poorly conceived script decided that the best part of any trick was the surprise instead of the context. Director Louis Leterrier does indeed attempt his best sleight of hand tricks with a plethora of special effects and confusing plot deviations but that only highlights the script’s shallowness and lack of character, substance, and overall sense of amusement. Now You See Me demonstrates that the ability to have boldness and energy in the idea of spectacle can be a charming element despite it lacking the graceful follow through that’s needed so badly in order to be verified as an intelligent film that boasts a vast amount of trickery. Instead this sort of cinematic trickery requires a vast amount of explanation and the closer we look the less we truly see in the unsatisfying answers. As a heist film it’s shamelessly simplistic and as a mystery thriller it becomes a tad overstated to the point of being drastically predictable. The best Now You See Me can hope for is being viewed as its own devious magician’s trick where it utilizes classic misdirection in the form of personality, occasional charm, and easily digestible and familiar plot twists so that you don’t notice its nonsensical, increasingly dull, and empty experience.

Grade: C-

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