[Review] - Now You See Me

Courtesy of Summit Entertainment
If there is one plot device that hooks me every time, it's time travel. If there is a second, it's illusionists. I have endless respect for such dedicated people, and how they perform their art. Few things lull me deeper into a state of contentment then watching a skilled magician perform a card trick. So, when the topic makes it's way to film, I pay attention, to see how they approach the stories of the lives of the sort of people who lie, cheat and steal their way to fame, playing on the hopes of the public that somehow, magic exists.

Now You See Me wants, or thinks, it's Ocean's Eleven, or The Prestige. It thinks it is incredibly clever idea, wrapped in a very stylish package, misdirecting you from the big reveal by flashing talent and humour in our faces. "The closer you look," the movie thinks it endlessly repeats (but only actually says three or four times), "the less you see." Unfortunately, what the movie really is, is quite a lot of smug bluster and wasted ability on a script that has delusions of grandeur.

Hit the jump for the review, which has made all the spoilers disappear.

You might be surprised to learn, based on the extensive amount of advertising being done for this film, that Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson and Isla Fisher are not the stars of the film. You might be surprised to learn that Dave Franco is in it at all, as he has been the focus of exactly none of that advertising. And to be fair, when your film has Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman and Mark Ruffalo in it, that the younger Franco and French actress Melanie Laurent get pushed to the edge might be expected. But getting back to the original point, the three actors being focused on are secondary, appearing only when action needs to be precipitated, and then disappearing until needed again. The stars of this picture are Ruffalo and Laurent, because this isn't a movie about magic, or illusionists. Which is good, because the movie fails at convincing you that any illusions are happening, thanks to copious and obvious amounts of CG. This is a heist film, a cops and robbers movie where the robbers are Copperfields and Jillettes rather then Capones or Barrows. 

Ruffalo plays a beleaguered and sceptical FBI agent (the Scully); Laurent, an onloan INTERPOL agent who wants to believe, not in magic, but in the humanity that lets people believe in magic (the Mulder). They are paired up to investigate the apparent robbery of a Parisian bank during the magic act of the Four Horsemen (Eisenberg, Harrelson, Fisher, Franco). The investigation causes them to cross paths with the Horsemen's financial baker, Arthur Tressler played by Caine, and professional illusionist debunker and smug wet blanket Thaddeus Bradley, played by Freeman. The man hunt takes them across the country, from Vegas, to a Mardi Gras set piece, to New York City. And all along the way, you can practical hear the check boxes being marked off a list of how to make as inoffensive, by-the-book cliched action movie under the guise of intellectual film making.

The film, written by Ed Solomon (Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure), Boaz Yakin (Remember the Titans), and Edward Ricourt never rises above it's own smug assumption that it is as smart and as original as it thinks it is. That, by attempting to be clever, that somehow imbues it with cleverness. And in the early minutes of the film, it almost seems like it will live up to it. The cold open, when a mysterious figure (who will also disappear from the film and your mind until the very end) stalks each of the horsemen, is very well done. Well written, shot and paced. Each Horseman displays his or her talents in their native environment (Eisenberg using magic to score dates; Harrelson using his hypnosis to blackmail tourists). These talents are all but ignored or abadoned past these establishing moments. The mystery man brings them together for foul purposes unknown. However, once the film jumps forward a year, during which the team prepare for their "big show," it looses the magic in favour of action like high speed car chases, and parkour fight scenes.

Burying the Horsemen in the background wouldn't have been that noticeable if not for the fact that Woody Harrelson and Jesse Eisenberg are two of the film's biggest assets, and the scant few scenes of them bickering amongst each other glimpse at a better film that could have been, focusing on them being forced to work together. The chemistry between them that elevated Zombieland from just another zombie comedy into something more is well on display, and could have elevated this lack of material into something more memorable. Sadly, all the taste gives you is wanting more, and an empty feeling when no more materialises. Throughout the film, there is a sense that there is more movie sitting somewhere. The interactions between the Horsemen, including plenty of backstory that never gets explored, and plenty of potential for building relationships, is ignored. I'm still at a loss as to what purpose Isla Fisher plays at all. Presumably, based on a briefly glimpsed photograph at one point in the film, there is an entire sub-plot starring Elias Koteas that is sitting on a editing bay floor somewhere, because he's no where to be seen in the final print. The back and forth of the interrogation sequence in particular is an island of hilarity in an otherwise joyless exercise. And it's all down to Harrelson and Eisenberg nailing those scenes.

As wasted as the Horsemen are in their roles, most everyone else has clearly been cast for star power alone. Caine and Freeman have nothing to do except put in an appearence, though Freeman slightly less nothing (his ever present assistant gets exactly one line), acting as Mr. Exposition in that voice of his, walking the audience through the "difficult bits." Caine shows up, gets little to do (his ever present assistant gets no lines), and disappears. So maybe the movie was magic after all. For me, the highlight of the film was Laurent, and I could have stood for the script to examine her more in depth. Sadly, she is just as underutilised as the rest, and because she's not a name, will go underappreciated for what she does deliver.

The movie feels like a discarded Leverage script, ramped up to eleven, and then filmed with epileptic camera movements (seriously, it is as if Louis Leterrier, of the Clash of the Titans remake and Incredible Hulk, filmed the movie with the camera mounted on a Lazy Susan), and all the sense drained out of the jumps in logic. Like most films of this genre, which are built around twist after twist, the film tries to out do itself. And each time, the sequence is harder to follow, harder to swallow, and makes generally less sense (some films actually give the audience enough information to figure it for themselves as they go. This film just dumps new information on us the scene before it is relevant). The big twist, meant to accompany an "aw ha" moment, as previous sequences are revisited from a different perspective, lands with a dull thud. In the audience I saw it with, a confused and audible silence swept the room, as everyone tried to figure out how it made any sense at all (it doesn't). But what's worse is that most of the overly complicated explanations are unnecessary, as the tricks themselves are obvious (a dead character not being dead, and so forth). Because we've seem them all, in arrangements just like, a half a hundred times in frankly better movies.

The film delivers it's lack of anything substantive in terms of plot or character development in a very stylish, very loud way. The colours are loud, every shot is crisp and pressed and looks as good as a fresh hundred dollar bill. And were this a movie like Fast and the Furious, which you expect to be an empty shell of a film, that would work. But the film tries to hard to look good, and all it ends up being is a chimp in a designer suit. Which also would have made for a better twist ending then what we got. What it is a blatant attempt to sell a mindless action film under the pretence of a thought-provoking caper. One of those summer not-busters that will be forgotten after it leaves theatres, is pushed to the discount bin at Walmart, and a constant "what was that movie" on every one of these actor's resumes. 

I'm fairly certain Morgan Freeman has already forgotten he appeared in it.
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About MR. Clark

Adopting the descriptor of "successfully unpublished author", MR. Clark began writing things on the internet in 2012, which he believed to be an entirely reputable and civilized place to find and deliver information. He regrets much.


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