Now You See Me

Four magicians of varying fame, Daniel Atlas (Jesse Eisenberg), Merritt McKinney (Woody Harrelson), Henley Reeves (Isla Fisher) and Jack Wilder (Dave Franco) are each given a Tarot card with an apartment’s address in New York City.  As they each arrive and introduce themselves, there is a noticeable tension between Daniel and Henley as she used to be his assistant before she struck out on her own.  Entering the apartment they find it abandoned and largely empty; but soon a series of actions activates a projector that shows the magicians plans for a series of devices for stage illusions.  One year later, the quartet billing themselves as the Four Horsemen begins performing in Las Vegas with their act bankrolled by successful insurance magnate Arthur Tressler (Michael Caine).  For the final act of their show, the Four Horsemen announce they are going to rob a bank.  Picking an audience member randomly, they pull out a Frenchman whose bank is in Paris.  They make the man disappear and he finds himself standing in a vault in front of a giant pile of Euro notes.  They are able to communicate with the man via a headset.  The magicians tell him to push a button on the headset that starts a high-powered air circulation system, sucking the money out of the vault.  The money then begins to rain down on the audience in Las Vegas.  In fact, three million Euros did disappear from the bank in Paris.  The FBI, led by agent Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo), arrests the four magicians.  Since the crime was committed in Paris, INTERPOL sends agent Alma Dray (Melanie Laurent) to join with the FBI’s investigation.  Since neither the FBI nor INTERPOL can figure out how the heist was pulled off, the four are released but will stay under surveillance.  Agent Rhodes approaches Thaddeus Bradley (Morgan Freeman) for help in figuring out how they pulled it off.  Bradley has made a name for himself by telling the world how magicians do their tricks.  One magician who Bradley exposed even tried a comeback and may have died while in a safe at the bottom of a river.  Bradley quickly figures out all the mechanics and timelines of the Paris heist, explaining it all to an incredulous Rhodes.  Dray seems more accepting of the explanation and begins reading up on magicians and their history.  She discovers a secret organization called the Eye that is supposed to only be made up of the greatest magicians.  Perhaps the bank heist and the two more planned shows in New Orleans and New York are the tests required by the Eye for membership of the Four Horsemen.  Rhodes is determined to capture the magicians and end their crime spree even if he cannot figure out how they do it.
 
“Now You See Me” is like some of the horses you see running in the Kentucky Derby:  They start out strong, running fast and leading the pack at first, then they fade and drop back as the really good horses make their way to the front.  This film begins with some very strong scenes of close up magic and large stage illusions, shifting in a high gear with the first heist and the frustration of the FBI agents.  Then it begins to lose steam and becomes increasingly more unbelievable and chaotic as it approaches the first of its several endings.  It also develops a love affair between two characters that is utterly unnecessary and adds a twist that should be fairly obvious to anyone who pays attention.
 
Let’s talk about that first part of the movie.  It begins with fairly lengthy introductions to the Four Horsemen, giving us a little background on each and how their personalities shape the kind of magic they perform.  These early scenes are interesting and give us an idea about what makes these characters tick.  The first inkling of trouble should have been the arrival of the Tarot cards.  We later learn there’s nothing about the address that is connected to any of them and the urgency of getting there doesn’t make any sense.  That is forgotten as we get to the Las Vegas show and the group’s spectacular illusion.  
 
While much of what’s presented as magic is done with digital effects in the film, this first trick seems to be the most realistic and the most likely to actually be possible.  There’s also a good bit of fun with the FBI interrogations as each magician is able to use their knowledge to stymie the investigation.  The interview with Harrelson’s character, who is a mentalist, is especially entertaining.  When the trick is later explained by Bradley, it all makes sense.  This is where the movie begins to come off the rails.  I have expressed before my dislike of the character, usually a super-villain of some sort, who is able to pull off his plots and schemes with clockwork-like perfection.  He has his people everywhere they need to be in order to be informed of everything that’s going on.  His operatives are always in the right place at the right time with the right information to carry out the plan.  There’s a similar situation here with the Four Horsemen pulling together all the aspects of their plan with absolute perfection every time.  Timing must be perfect for each event otherwise the whole plot will fall apart.  It takes only trying to plan a meal where all the foods are ready at about the same time to see how impossible it is for anything even mildly complicated to time out perfectly.  The intricate plots devised to make their mixture of massive illusions and crimes work would implode with the slightest mistake.  Even when it seems something has gone wrong, it turns out to have been just another cog in the machine of their plot.  All this perfection tends to get a bit tedious after a while.
 
Another problem I have with the movie is the complete lack of interest this quartet has in the person who brought them all together.  While it is mentioned a time or two, it isn’t a big part of the story.  If I am going to be involved in a conspiracy to rob banks and steal millions of dollars, I’d be more than a little curious about who was pulling the strings and what their ultimate motive is.  None of the Four Horsemen seem all that interested in knowing about any of it.
 
As the film moves on toward its numerous conclusions the tricks and the plot becomes more convoluted, more impossible and more farfetched.  Real stage illusions are impressive enough and could have been worked into the plot without having to resort to utterly improbable tricks that required CGI.  As each unlikely event plays out, the credibility of the story and the characters begins to collapse, wasting what are a very likable cast and an interesting premise that starts with a lot of momentum.  
 
“Now You See Me” is rated PG-13 for language, some action and sexual content.  There are a few fights and one very bad car wreck.  The sexual content is brief and no naughty bits are exposed.  Foul language is widely spread and not terribly bad.
 
I had high hopes for “Now You See Me” based on the trailer.  It seemed to be a caper film from a completely different perspective.  What it actually is turns out to be a good start that uses many of the same tried and true movie tropes that we’ve all seen a million times and descends into familiar territory far too easily.  My hopes are dashed but perhaps next time….
 
“Now You See Me” gets three guitars out of five.
 
Two new movies open this week.  I’ll see one of them but which one is up to you.  Vote on the next movie I see and review.
 
The Internship—Two old-school, unemployed salesmen (Vince Vaughn, Owen Wilson) finagle internships at Google, then must compete with younger and smarter candidates for prime positions.
 
The Purge—In an America ravaged by crime and overcrowded prisons, the government sanctions an annual 12-hour period during which all criminal activity -- including murder -- is legal. James Sandin (Ethan Hawke) and his family face the ultimate test when an intruder drags the vicious outside world into their home.
 
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