Earlier this week I went to Cineworld to see a a movie with no idea what it was going to be. My only clues were that it was a 12A and that I’d get to see it “well before” its release date.
The film, which came as a bit of a surprise to me (as was the intention) was Now You See Me, something that would be gracing our screens sixteen days after said secret screening. Apparently “well before” means not about a month as I was expecting but “about two weeks”.
Anyway, I wasn’t too disappointed. The trailer made the film look like an entertaining blockbuster about a group of Robin Hood magicians who rob from banks and give to their audience. Plus Prestige was a thoroughly enjoyable movie and this seemed kinda similar but set in the present day.
Anyway, the film opens with “The Four Horseman” being chosen by a mysterious stranger to come together and put on three jaw-dropping shows certain to bring them the attention of both the general public and authorities alike.
“The Four Horseman” are Jessie Eisenberg as a fast-talking street magician, Isla Fisher as an assistant turned daredevil magician, Woody Harrelson as a mentalist who can hypnotise people, and Dave Franco (brother of James) as a wannabe magician who is good at picking pockets and locks (Think they ran out of ideas by the time they got to his character, maybe they were upset after realizing they hadn’t hired James after all).
After the first show, which involves a trick where they apparently rob a bank in Paris from Las Vegas, an FBI agent (Mark Ruffalo) and French interpol agent (Mélanie Laurent) start investigating the case. The film mainly centres on their efforts to try and get a few steps ahead of what The Four Horsemen are doing.
The film has problems. The most pressing of which is it seems to have no interest in the art of magic beyond its ability to trick people. In Prestige, we were taken behind the curtain and shown how so of the most famous tricks are performed and got a real feel for the graft a magician goes through in the commitment to their craft.
In Now You See Me there is little intrigue about the apparent tricks on show. One in particular sees Isla Fisher float inside a CGI bubble which appears to unexpectedly collapse before Jesse Eisenberg is revealed to be standing in the audience to catch her. It is never made clear whether she was either on wires and they used a projection to make it look like she was in a bubble, or perhaps they used smoke and mirrors to make it look like she is floating, or if they invented a bubble that could make her float.
Hopefully it won’t surprise anyone if I say that, like Prestige, alongside all the magician’s tricks the movie itself is playing a trick on the audience, which itself is the movie’s only saving grace. The main problem is that the makers of Now You See Me are so determined to impress you with this final trick that they forget to make sure they have your interest with the rest of the film.
There is literally no trick in the film up to that point that is interesting. And even the reveals of the tricks could be a lot slicker, a lot more like the ending to Ocean’s Eleven as slick editing helps you to see the meticulous planning that goes into each and every stage of the plan.
Perhaps the problem with the movie is best illustrated by one of its key scenes thematically. The two agents, Ruffalo and Laurent are on the plane. Ruffalo has no interest in magic tricks, while Laurent is keen to research their appeal. She tries a trick out on him which fails the first time, but the second time it works and Ruffalo smiles. “See” she says “Sometimes its fun to be tricked”. The main problem with the film is that the tricks lack this fun. We fail to feel the exhilaration the audience members feel as they are going along to these shows and being amazed by these great magicians.
“Always be the smartest guy in the room” Jesse Eisenberg’s character says at one point. A rule the film’s writers and directors should have taken more seriously when conceiving this film.