The Review: 'Now You See Me'--Uh Oh, It's Magic

The Review: 'Now You See Me'--Uh Oh, It's Magic

May 31, 2013

Magic! As performed on-screen by actors who are not magicians! Assisted by multiple do-overs, consultants, special effects and no live audience! How impressive? Not at all! Do you care? No, you do not! Let's go!

Now that that's out of the way, there's one more bit of business to deal with: it's not about magic. It's a movie with magic tricks that serve as a complicating factor in a series of heists pulled off by magicians who are in the service of an anonymous entity pulling the strings, a secrets-and-riddles plot that's impossible to write about in any real detail without giving away the game. The bare bones, though, are that magicians -- well, two magicians (Jesse Eisenberg, Isla Fisher), one mentalist pickpocket (Woody Harrelson) and James Franco's brother Dave, a guy whose main talents here are picking locks, fighting and vanishing into thin air -- are robbing banks and Robin Hooding it back to their audiences. An FBI guy (Mark Ruffalo) and a French INTERPOL agent (Melanie Laurent) are hot on their trail. Meanwhile, Morgan Freeman is hovering in the wings wearing a jaunty fedora, smooth-talking all over the place and... who knows what else.

When you walk into a Las Vegas magic show you expect a liberal helping of cheese with the illusion and you more than get it -- I saw Siegfried and Roy a few years before that tiger ate them so I know this from experience. That's why it'll come as no surprise that these aggressively showy characters can't turn off the huckster-based performative aspects of their personalities even when threatened with the prospect of prison. Each cog in the heist machine is possessed of a flamboyant ego and little else, which makes caring for them as disposable as being overly concerned with the functionality of the plot. There are moments when it feels as though the filmmakers are patting themselves on the back for constructing a snap-tight puzzle box, but as it barrels along, growing larger and more preposterous (seriously, the plot of Queen Latifah and Katie Holmes' Mad Money is more doable), you realize that it's a big goof, meant to fake you out as much as some of the people on-screen are suffering the same fate. That's when you just let it roll over you on its own "sure, whatever" empty entertainment terms. There is zero possibility of anyone ever actually accomplishing the robbery magic presented on-screen unless that person was, in fact, Harry Potter, so it's best not to get too torqued up about it.

In the end, I guess my biggest complaint is that there's not a single written line of dialogue as outlandishly silly as the film itself, nothing along the lines of, "NO, IT IS I WHO IS ILLUSIONING YOU!" But I suppose that would be too harsh a pop of the film's twisty animal-shape balloon, the one that wants to be taken at least somewhat seriously. But I still wish someone had said it.

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