On paper, “Now You See Me” seems like a nice antithesis to the usual mindless summer action movie. Instead of a loud, inexplicable-explosions-everywhere plot filled with bad acting and even worse logic, it presents itself as a smart and relatively unique heist film with fantastic magic tricks and twisting plot turns, complete with a stacked cast full of great character actors. Why wouldn’t anyone enjoy a team of magicians including Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg, Isla Fisher and Dave Franco facing off against Mark Ruffalo, Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine and Melanie Laurent (Shoshanna from “Inglourious Basterds”)?
It’s easy to answer that question: they wouldn’t enjoy it when the magic of “Now You See Me” is worse than one of GOB Bluth’s illusions.The magic of “Now You See Me” is worse than one of GOB Bluth’s illusions.Let’s start at the beginning. Eisenberg, his terrible goatee and the rest of his team play a group of incredibly skilled sleight-of-hand magicians, each of whom are masters of a different craft, brought together by a mysterious figure to become “The Four Horsemen,” famous Vegas magicians whose Robin Hood ways (stealing from the rich and giving to the poor) draw the ire of Ruffalo and Laurent’s special agents, Caine’s millionaire hotel owner and Freeman’s debunker of all things magic. Thing is, each of their characters are introduced in minute-long scenes that are too short to display their personalities and too long to keep any sense of mystery around them. The rest of the film follows these barely-sketched-out caricatures as they race across the country.
It becomes clear the script is as thin as the paper it’s written on soon after the plot kicks into action and every single character’s identity and alignment is called into question by twist after twist after nonsensical twist. While each actor gets their own embarrassingly poorly written lines (one line Ruffalo has to give, something involving fraternity hazing at Rutgers and a diapered squirrel, is probably the worst piece of dialogue written this decade), Laurent and Fisher get an even shorter end of the stick. But for the sheer fact that they are women, both of their roles are incredibly sexist, both shoehorned into purported romances because otherwise there’d be no reason for their characters to exist.
This inattention to detail bleeds over into the actual action. A few of the magical heists, especially the early ones before Freeman begins ruining all of the fun, get close to compelling, but “Now You See Me” is the epitome of diminishing returns. Foot chases turn into car chases turn into magic fights, each of them worse than the last. Even worse, director Louis Leterrier is way too fond of unnecessary camera sweeps and poorly-executed CGI, which pulls the audience out of the film even more. A key explosion mid-movie is hilariously fake, which foreshadows its related hilariously poorly written related twist.“Now You See Me” is the epitome of diminishing returns.Speaking of the twists, not only are interesting subplots evoking Occupy Wall Street and the Illuminati randomly picked up and put down again, never explained or fleshed out to the point of competence, but the film finds itself smart enough to throw in a twist every fifteen minutes. They’re not actually working for that guy! That good guy is actually a bad guy! That bad guy is actually a good guy! Those tricks weren’t magic, they were done through parlor tricks! Those parlor tricks aren’t what you expected, either! Things don’t get confusing, they get crushingly boring, as it’s obvious just as things settle into a decent caper chase that they’ll get shuffled in the mix once more. The final twist is the biggest problem with the whole thing. It’s one of those twists where the screenwriters (Ed Dolomon, Boaz Yakin and Edward Ricourt) probably pumped their fists when they figured out how to totally shock their audience, but it instead makes the entire thing fall apart in retrospect.
“Now You See Me” is full of parlor tricks and magical derring-do, but I found the biggest trick of the entire thing was after the credits rolled. I realized I had spent two hours completely unentertained in a dark room, and thought “Hey, where’d my $11 go?”