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The Old Razzle Dazzle

by Shawn Stone on June 6, 2013

Now You See Me
Directed by Louis Leterrier

 

Four talented street magicians—hustlers, really, plying their trade both inside and outside the law—are summoned by a mysterious, hooded figure to an obscure New York City location. Daniel (Jesse Eisenberg) is a master of sleight of hand; Henley (Isla Fisher) favors Houdini-style tricks involving shackles and locks; Merritt (Woody Harrelson) is a mentalist-hypnotist with a knack for digging up embarrassing, lucrative information from his marks’ subconscious; and Jack (Dave Franco) can open any lock or pick any pocket. They are brought together in a dingy Manhattan apartment for—well, we don’t learn why they are summoned. We aren’t shown what they’re up to, or why. Immediately, the action jumps ahead one year, and the quartet are headlining at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas as “the Four Horsemen.”

What they’re up to, and why, are slowly but steadily revealed in this slick, entertaining caper flick. For their opening-night finale, they seemingly rob a bank in Paris and give the money to the Vegas audience.

Clearly, this is impossible.

Pick a card, idiot: NOW YOU SEE ME

The bank robbery necessarily provokes the interest of the FBI, in the person of Special Agent Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo), and Interpol, in the person of Agent Vargas (Melanie Laurent). Echoing the film’s constant refrain, the closer they get to the magicians and their mysterious actions, the less they understand what’s really going on.

It’s the terrific ensemble cast that really makes the film so enjoyable. In addition to the stellar names already listed, there is Michael Caine as an insufferable billionaire and, at the center of things, Morgan Freeman as an arrogant debunker of magic.

French director Louis Leterrier, who has helmed actioners both purposeful (The Transporter) and incoherent (the Clash of the Titans remake), keeps the cast in constant motion. The camera is constantly stalking, circling, catching up with or flying high over the actors, in a bald-faced attempt to bamboozle the audience. There’s a foot chase through the crowded streets of New Orleans, as Ruffalo’s FBI guy pursues Eisenberg’s magician, that’s sufficiently absurd to be worthy of Michael Bay. It’s not the most elegant approach, but it works: The mystery holds to the end of the picture, and, yes, the ultimate “big reveal” is a surprise.

That ending is part of what makes this movie so satisfying. After getting the audience to root for most of the characters on both sides of the law, the filmmakers don’t pull the rug out from under us by revealing one (or more) of them to be substantially different than the people we’ve come to like. Leterrier and company had the wisdom to realize that Now You See Me isn’t substantial enough to warrant a zinger ending with a bitter aftertaste.