Now You See Me…Now I Want a Refund

Many things make a film ‘good’ or ‘bad.’ We consider the acting, writing, visual imagery, plot, setting, tone, or myriad other factors. Sometimes it is a matter of execution. Sometimes it is the mere idea that never bears fruit. In every mediocre, or worse, Hollywood production, there is often a good film clawing to get out. Such is the case with Now You See Me, which is an exercise in determining what works and what does not. So many things feel right, but when taken together, the whole is far, far less than the sum of its disparate and ragged parts.

Four magicians are gathered by a mysterious figure. Together, they form The Four Horseman, a troupe that performs magic in the service of social justice. J. Daniel Atlas (Jesse Eisenberg) is brainy and verbose, a control freak who tries to inspire through grandeur. Henley Reeves (Isla Fisher) is his former assistant now making a go of it on her own. She entertains through sexuality and escapism. Merritt McKinney (Woody Harrelson) is a ‘mentalist’ who hypnotizes and implants suggestions into both individuals and groups. Finally, Jack Wilder (Dave Franco) is a hustler, a no-name oddball. The quartet hones its act and begins a series of performances that right wrongs and redistribute money to those who are either less fortunate or victimized.

Orbiting them are another foursome. Their financial benefactor, Arthur Tressler (Michael Caine) tries to profit off them. Thaddeus Bradley (Morgan Freeman) seeks to debunk them, while both Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo) and Alma Dray (Melanie Laurent) bring the weight of the law against them for their seemingly obvious, but difficult to ascertain, crimes.

Now You See Me employs a clear “Robin Hood” ethic in these escapades, where economic justice flows from entertainment. The Four Horsemen have assigned themselves the roles of judge, jury, and wielders of the sword as they determine victims, assign blame, and dole out awards. To a degree, the film glamorizes this philosophy. Crowds erupt. Villains are subdued and shorn of their financial locks and we, the audience, are meant to root for the perpetrators or, at least, be bewitched by them.

The acting is strong across the board. Harrelson and Eisenberg radiate charisma and inhabit their characters effectively. Ruffalo’s everyman special agent seems a touch forced and dunderheaded for someone so accomplished, while Laurent is charming and a bit underused. The pace is strong and excellent even though there is little action.

As a film, though, director Louis Letterier’s Now You See Me does not hold up. There are wide and obvious plot holes. There are many contrivances necessary for these ‘tricks’ to succeed, that the audience is asked to suspend all reason. Instead of being demonstrably clever, most of these devices smack of convenience. As an example, during one stretch the plot demands that a character steal a certain type of car, cajole pursuers into an extended chase, appear to wreck, but in reality have the car switched at the precise moment with a duplicate car that happens to have a cadaver in it, as well as vital, yet misleading, information, which must be discovered dramatically before the switched car explodes and burns before the body can be identified fully by the authorities. Too many of these conveniences are needed for the plot to unfold.

Compare this to, say, Ocean’s Eleven, which also involves an extended, complex caper. In that case, there is a particular logic to the crime that makes sense in retrospect. Difficult, of course, and perhaps even unrealistic, but at least rational. There is little reason on display in Now You See Me. There is only necessity.

Beyond that, the film’s tone requires particular elements that are lacking. It is shiny, loud, and sometimes funny, and it longs to be liquidly appealing, like Don Draper’s hair product. Upon examination, it is more like a lounge act that is over-produced in order to hide its deficiencies. It is Brylcreem on a bad haircut. To be slick, the script and dialogue must be sharp and quick, punctuated by magnetic and savory discussions. The proceedings must have a debonair gentleman and a jaunty lass, verbally sparring with everyone who mistakenly engages them. The script must have bite, but not the kind that leaves marks or breaks the skin. To put in terms of actors, as much as I like Woody Harrelson, he is no Cary Grant. Perhaps the film could have worked had Eisenberg and Laurent been the two main characters involved in the cat-and-mouse game? Who knows, but the end result would have been, if nothing else, more interesting.

FINAL GRADE: 1/3 Eggheads.

9 thoughts on “Now You See Me…Now I Want a Refund”

  1. I am excited to see this movie with the information you provided whether true or not true. I really enjoy the actors who are in this film and see if it lives up to the expectations of its trailer.

  2. I have not seen Now You See Me, but I have noticed that in the movies that I have seen resonantly were very lacking in the story line. Most rap up the movie with explaining the main plot, but leave all the smaller twists and smaller details just unanswered. Personally I prefer a book to a movie and I think it is because a book can be any length so the author can take the time to explain everything while a movie is only so long.

  3. I was borderline about watching this movie. The storyline didn’t really interest me, but I love Morgan Freeman as an actor.
    After reading this review, I have more of a desire to see this movie. Thank you!

  4. My brother watched this movie over the weekend and he really enjoyed the movie. I watch most movies for the entertainment value. After reading this movie review and hearing what my friends have said about the movie, I want to watch this movie when I get a chance.

  5. That’s such a bummer! I definitely had high hopes with this movie. Some of my favorite actors/actresses are in it (Morgan Freeman, Mark Ruffalo, Isla Fisher, etc…). I need to do a better job reviewing movies; I get very caught up in the emotions and feelings that come from the cinematography aspects instead of the actual plot line. I guess I’ll wait till the DVD comes out…

  6. I wasn’t planning to see this particular movie, but the idea behind it is one I’ve recently enjoyed in other productions. I love trying to figure out the plan as it unfolds. This “bad guys are the good guys” idea seems to be really popular in modern entertainment. From TV shows (“Leverage” is a personal favorite) to movies (such as the aforementioned Ocean’s Eleven/Twelve/Thirteen trilogy), we seem to like the idea of rooting for bad guys doing good things. I wonder if this is a sign of us liking the “end justifies the means” philosophy, or if we simply like the complex imagination of it all.

  7. Though I have not seen this movie, I will agree that most movies now a days are weak in their story line and strong in their “shiny objects”. Most movies focus on what the most sought in our culture today. So with most movies containing money is the “true way to be happy” idea, sex innuendos, cussing every other word and violence that goes unnoticed to our complacent or loss of apathy type society it is no wonder that the human mind is filled with sinful things; as well as the weakened true meaning of words like “love”, “justice” and “truth”. Our society is saturated with the ways of the world and with a TV playing or displaying something negative about every 5 seconds we have to really make an effort to control these negative aspects in our lives. It is amazing how something so simple as a TV or even music playing in the background as we go about our day can have effects on our behavior.

  8. I saw this movie and I thought that it was great overall. However, I completely agree with you about the major holes in the plot. They expect us to just believe how they get from point A to point B which again goes with the whole “magic” theme of the movie, but I do think it would have been better if it was a little bit more realistic.

  9. I really didn’t want to see this movie too much (although Morgan Freeman talking in a documentary would be a great way to spend two hours), but after you gave it a slight comparison to Oceans 11, I might just have to watch it at the dollar theatre. A lot of movies recently haven’t had a highly original story line, and they try to cover that up by using visual effects. It is interesting how movies lately have promoted the “bad guy” doing “good” things such as Italian Job, The Social Network, and now this. I think it might just be a sign of how our culture wants to be different from previous cultures and slip away from the norm.

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