Arts movie review

Fool me please

Not quite highbrow magic


Now You See Me

Directed by Louis Leterrier

Starring Jesse Eisenberg, Mark Ruffalo, and Woody Harrelson

Now You See Me is the story of four small-caliber magicians that pop out of nowhere to form a magic troupe called “The Four Horsemen” and pull off a jaw-dropping magic trick: robbing millions of euros from the vault of a Parisian bank without ever leaving their stage in Las Vegas. The heist gets them the attention of the media, the public, and — since they promises even bigger acts in the near future — even the FBI and Interpol.

If you have seen the trailer for Now You See Me, you may be tempted to give it a try. I know I was. It appealed to me on three fronts: first, it looked like a tempting intellectual puzzle; second, it featured some of my favorite actors; and third, it just looked like a lot of fun. So I went to see it with great expectations. Not surprisingly, they were only partially fulfilled.

The film was good fun, no doubt about that. It is a nice flick to kill two hours if you want to be entertained with shiny objects and sleights of the hand. The cast includes many recognizable names, such as Jesse Eisenberg, Mark Ruffalo, Woody Harrelson, and (get this) both Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine, as well as others you wish you knew, including a cute-as-a-button Isla Fisher and an even-cuter Mélanie Laurent, last seen burning down a theater containing Hitler, in Tarantino’s Inglorious Basterds.

But Now You See Me was not the brainteaser I was hoping it would be, namely a kind of modern take on magic from the same shelf as The Prestige or The Illusionist. I would say, unless you are fifteen, sport a double-digit IQ, or have a particular fetish for the ‘magic of magic,’ I would recommend you to significantly lower your expectations before entering the theater, and to remember throughout the movie that big names don’t necessarily mean great performances (or even interesting characters) and that for magic to work you must suspend disbelief, put up with the pompous posturing and — despite what Jesse says — not look too close.

As with any magic act, for this film to work you have to willingly go through the motions: you know you want to be fooled, and when you are you like it; then you want to be shown how you were fooled, at which point you will like it even more; and finally, you want to be fooled one last time before being sent home wondering how they pulled that final trick off. That’s how it is supposed to work in this movie, and that’s how it works at least in the first two accounts. Yet when it comes to the final trick, its lack of plausibility or coherence with the previous narrative will have you leaving the theater with a feeling that, you were fooled alright, but not in the way you wanted.