Isla Fisher, Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson and Dave Franco in a scene from "Now You See Me."
There’s a great movie out now about magicians, sleight-of-hand maestros, illusionists, card and coin tricksters.
Now You See Me is not that movie.
If you’re so inclined, check out Deceptive Practice: The Mysteries and Mentors of Ricky Jay, a wonderful and illuminating documentary about the veteran prestidigitator. It’s playing in select theaters, and will no doubt be available on DVD and Video on Demand.
As for "Now You See Me,” it’s a slick and kind of smirky entertainment in which a quartet of street charlatans-turned-Las Vegas stars pull off an epic heist — using the tricks of the magic trade. But where a deft magic act turns on the performer’s ability to make the impossible appear completely real (after all, you’ve just witnessed it happening right in front of you), in Louis Leterrier’s film, the presto changeo business is done with mirrors, so to speak. And with a flashy whirl of visual effects that undermine the experience, rather than enhance it.
Now You See Me: ★★½
Director: Louis Leterrier
Writers: Boaz Yakin, Edward Ricourt and Ed Solomon.
Showing: Rave Franklin Park, Fallen Timbers, Franklin Park, and Cinemark Cinemas.
Rating: PG-13 for language, some action and sexual content
Running time: 102 minutes.
Starring: Jesse Eisenberg, Mark Ruffalo, Isla Fisher, Morgan Freeman, Woody Harrelson, Dave Franco
The movie wants to be Ocean’s Eleven with top hats and wands, but the rapport between Now You See Me’s principals doesn’t come close to approximating Clooney and company’s cool. Instead, we get Jesse Eisenberg, tightly wound and talky as J. Daniel Atlas, a cocky card and coin hustler who finds himself banding together with three other characters: Henley Reeves (Isla Fisher), who does Houdini-like escapes; Merritt McKinney (Woody Harrelson), a mentalist, and Jack Wilder (Dave Franco), a pickpocket. Assembled by a billionaire businessman (Michael Caine), they become an instant supergroup headlining on the Vegas strip.
Their showstopper: robbing a Paris bank vault — by teleportation — and showering its bounty of bills down on the audience. They’re Robin Hoods — bent on making fat cats pay for their greedy ways. And so the FBI, in the person of Mark Ruffalo, is on the case, assisted by an intrepid French Interpol detective (Melanie Laurent).
Morgan Freeman, as is his wont lately (see Oblivion), shows up to make meaningful pronouncements in a voice that could sell credit cards or gay marriage (he’s done ads for both). He is cast as a kind of professional debunker, and casts a cynical eye on the Four Horsemen and their high-stakes shenanigans.
Leterrier, who directed the instant classic Clash of the Titans, thinks himself an action director, and so much of the time Now You See Me jettisons all pretense of the illusionary arts to devote its time, its money and its stunt team to high-speed chases and car crashes.
Maybe Now You See Me really wants to be Fast & Furious with top hats and wands.