A self-satisfied, stale, formulaic outing, Louis Leterrier’s Now You See Me is a bland heist movie built on ho-hum characters, tepid cinematography, ungainly casting, and a worn-out storyline. The 2013 flick seems to think very highly of itself, but it’s about as heady as a toothless uncle’s penny-behind-the-ear trick.
For one reason or another, the caper recipe featuring a handsome group of smooth-talking thieves surfaces regularly with the same foundation in tow. The crooks are lovable and generally innocuous rogues, the women serve little purpose other than to be fawned over and the camera swirls around a lot to offer the illusion that something is actually happening. Classic misdirection.
Now You See Me follows the blueprint to the letter, featuring Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Isla Fisher, and David Franco as a quartet of magicians brought together to form the “Four Horsemen.” They are sponsored by the wealthy Arthur Tressler (Michael Caine), but seem to be serving a higher purpose.
The Four Horsemen seemingly rob a bank in Paris while performing a Las Vegas show, which puts FBI agent Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo) and Interpol agent Dray (Melanie Laurent) on their trail. The agents can’t prove anything, however, so they turn to magic debunker Thaddeus Bradley (Morgan Freeman) to help crack the case.
Apart from a sleek set of introductory sequences, the audience knows very little about the Four Horsemen. Fisher’s character, for instance, serves little purpose apart from wearing gloves, holding a bunny and getting hit on by Harrelson’s sleazy mentalist.
Of all the Horsemen, Eisenberg is the most out of place. His character is played up as a cheeky, self-absorbed individual but the innate awkwardness in the actor undermines his fast-talking lines and quick tricks. Despite the cool of his Daniel Atlas on stage, Eisenberg falls short of bringing an authentic dimension to the role.
In fairness, none of the Horsemen are given much to work with beyond basic “types.” Little mind seems to have been paid to who would be best in what part. Fisher’s Henley could be played by any actress her age, while Franco’s talents are wasted in the barely mentioned Wilder.
The bulk of Now You See Me concerns the pursuit of the group by Rhodes and Dray, who sail the world of magic until the “twist” ending makes a disclosure that suggests the audience probably should know more about the Horsemen as individuals after all. Unfortunately, the quartet is kept largely sequestered before they’re asked to go on stage.
None of this foundation-laying is of much interest to Leterrier and what is by all appearances an origin story for a broader franchise (they can dream) is low on root causes and high on its own fumes.
This is underscored by an apparent addiction to swirling camera movements and clunky, obvious dialogue. To make matters worse, the stage shows are about as exciting as Regis-less episodes of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire and the heist scenes come together with all the obnoxious ease of stealing candy from a blind baby.
Some may be swept up in the “fun” and showy sleekness of Now You See Me, but the repetitive score, vapid characters, uninteresting plotline, half-assed explanations, and overall self-satisfaction of the picture will be too much to take for serious film-goers. In the end, the biggest trick Leterrier pulls is making the audience disappear.