A film review by Craig J. Koban June 11, 2013


2013, PG-13, 112 mins


Woody Harrelson as Merritt Osbourne  /  Jesse Eisenberg as Michael Atlas  /  Morgan Freeman as Thaddeus Bradley  /  Mark Ruffalo as Dylan Hobbs  /  Isla Fisher as Henley  /  Mélanie Laurent as Alma Vargas  /  Michael Caine as Arthur Tressler  /  Dave Franco as Jack

Directed by Louis Leterrier  /  Written by Edward Ricourt, Ed Solomon and Boaz Yakin

Far too much of NOW YOU SEE ME kind of plays like a far less compelling and more eye-rollingly preposterous modern day version of Christopher Nolan’s THE PRESTIGE.  

Both films tap into the world of magicians and illusionists and both feature a very high pedigree of acting talent (Michael Caine, oddly enough, appears in both).  Regrettably, NOW YOU SEE ME is far too silly to leave a lasting impression: it’s a silly film containing many serious actors that are desperately trying to not come off as silly for nearly two hours.  THE PRESTIGE built to a conclusion that was both enrapturing and suspenseful, whereas NOW YOU SEE just left me scratching my head and asking far too many questions. 

Yeah…yeah…maybe these two films are not really all that comparable, seeing as NOW YOU SEE ME is more largely built on lame-brained plot developments and twists and certainly does not go out of its way to be a sombre and thoughtful meditation on the secret world of people in the magic craft.  It’s actually more of an elaborate heist film that just happens to involve magicians, but even the best heist films require a large and satisfying payoff.  The conclusion of NOW YOU SEE ME is largely of the uninspired and unremarkable variety, and also shows a character shifting allegiances which really, for the life of me, I am still trying to piece together in terms of it making rational sense (beyond, of course, the script going out of its way to tell us that it does makes sense).  Ultimately, what you have here is a glossy looking film with some novel ideas and a very appealing cast that never really attains the heights it probably should have. 

We are quickly introduced to a series of magicians that will unavoidably come together to form a team: There’s the more classically trained stage magician, J. Daniel Atlas (the affectionately cocky Jesse Eisenberg); a mentalist that specializes in hypnosis, Merritt McKinney (played with droll deadpan wit by Woody Harrelson); a former assistant to Atlas turned escape artist, Henley Reeves (Isla Fisher); and a street con man and two time hustler that’s great with sleight of hand tricks, Jack Wilder (Dave Franco).  They are brought together by the wealthy Arthur Tressler (Michael Caine, slumming it a bit with an underwritten role) that makes them the new big “it” attraction on the Vegas strip called “The Four Horseman.”   



Their very first stunt in the film is pretty damn daring: they rob a bank in France…while still remaining in the Vegas stage in front of thousands of eye witnesses.  This seems to catch the attention of an FBI agent Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo), who desperately wants to stop this team from engaging in another series of audacious bank robberies (that, and he really wants to know how they pulled the first one off).  Teamed up with him is a beautiful French Interpol agent, Alma Dray (the luminous Melanie Laurent from INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS and BEGINNERS) that seems to have an interest in the Horsemen that may or may not be pure.  Added to the mix is a professional magician debunker Thaddeus Bradley (Morgan Freeman), that makes millions from the sales of his DVD docs that reveal all of the trade secrets of stage magicians, and he would love nothing more than to reveal the Horseman’s hard-to-decipher methods to the world.   

Again, the actors here are definitely likeable, even through most of them seem to be lethargically working their way to a mighty paycheck.  Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine, for example, give this otherwise outlandish film a necessary dosage of sophistication and gravitas, even when their characters are not all that compellingly rendered (granted, the pair manage to make even the most lame brained of dialogue exchanges feel powerfully emoted).  All of the other actors, to be fair, seem to be competently going through the motions here; Ruffalo always exudes an easy going charm, as he does here playing a frequently dim-witted man of the law.  Harrelson has some moments of snarky mischief.  Eisenberg has a manner of making most of his frequently dizzying declarations ring with a rat-ta-tat fluidity and authenticity.  Fisher is really just pure window dressing here, and Franco seems to have an annoying manner of acting with idiosyncratic smirks and squints.  Melanie Laurent is, as always, a welcome sight in just about any film.   

Maybe one of the real problems with NOW YOU SEEM ME is that the Four Horsemen are not really as likeable as the actors that portray them.  Most of them – beyond being ill-defined as well rounded personas – are limitlessly arrogant wiseasses that believe that they are smarter and better than just about everyone around them, despite the fact that they are just props themselves being manipulate by a larger and more omnipresent outside force.  The film also does not cast the FBI or police in any real positive light either, as they seem to have to rely on a magic skeptic like Bradley to help them when the collective wits and technology of the Federal government seems incapable of cracking the Horsemen case.  Even some the most nifty of action sequences – like when Franco’s Wilder disarms and attacks a hostile Rhodes with a deck of playing cards – makes these lawmen seem more like bumbling and uncoordinated buffoons. 

Of course, everything in the film builds to the obligatory big heist, which involves the Horsemen using every conceivable trick up their collective sleeves and arsenal – including the usage of holograms that seem not of this planet and timing that appears to be categorically super human – to pull the caper to end all capers off and finally establish themselves as pure folk heroes to the common man.  The problem here, though, is that the story really starts to spiral out of control to the point where twists and plot manipulations begin to have no motivation or reason to them.  It all culminates with one of those expository heavy scenes when one person – ultimately revealed to be the grand puppet master - has to explain to one incredulous soul everything that has transpired over the course of the film.  By this point in the story I was just left with one nagging phrase going through my noggin: “Say…what!?” 

Louis Leterrier, who has previously made films as far ranging as THE TRANSPORTER and THE INCREDIBLE HULK, directs NOW YOU SEE ME with flashy and obtrusive overkill that places great emphasis on glossy CGI augmentation, perpetually free roaming cinematography (he can’t seem to keep the camera still at times) and a disorienting sense of editorial clarity (a mid-movie foot chase sequence is a jumbled mess).  I hate to bring up the comparison again, but Christopher Nolan had the intelligence and skills to craft a cerebral film about the psychology of his grand illusionists, something that Leterrier does not have the faculty for – or maybe even the slightest interest – in.  Leterrier seems more compelled with smoke and mirror visual dynamism here than with truly investing in intriguing characters and a story that does not devolve into positively guffaw-inducing plot developments.  There’s ample movie magic and make-believe on display in NOW YOU SEE ME, but it's all a rather transparent illusion that fails to hide the film’s real shortcomings. 

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