Movie Review: 'Now You See Me' (2013)

“Now You See Me” follows a team of street magicians, who are given patronage by an unknown source to perform Robin Hood-esque deeds, in the midst of their performances. As a movie that promoted itself as a heist thriller in the vein of “Ocean’s Eleven”, it should be known that comparison is rather misleading; mainly because the film’s heist is not its central focus. It is the catalyst to a broader investigation, involving the team of magicians and their mysterious benefactor.

“Now You See Me” is an entertaining flick that takes quite a few twists and rewarding turns, along the way. As a mystery movie, it works. The premise is intriguing and its convoluted plot line is easy enough to follow, without the content having to be dulled down. The pacing is taut with a steady supply of action that avoids being so constant that it overwhelms.

“Now You See Me” achieves this hat trick, thanks in large part to Louis Leterrier. The man behind the best movies in the “Transporter” franchise directs the caper with the attentive touch of his stylized action expertise.

Personally, the most exciting prospect of this movie going in was the notion of it exploring the world of modern magicians. Sadly, no one from the real-life magic community is given a chance to have any exposure here and that is incredibly disappointing.

“Now You See Me” could have and should have been an opportunity to showcase the talents of Jeff McBride, Ricky J or rising star Krystyn Lambert. At the very least, the movie should have featured the historic Magic Castle or real-life magic fan Neil Patrick Harris, who has hosted the World Magic Awards.

For this magic fan, including these integral figures would have made the world the movie tries to create, far more believable. In light of their absence, true magic aficionados should be able to sense “Now You Seem Me’s” lack of authenticity. Instead of offering outsiders a chance to be educated by an insider’s knowledgeable perspective or experience a glimpse through the looking glass of an ardent magic fan's enthusiasm for this much belied art form, viewers are treated to a movie that carries itself with an outsider’s nascent understanding of the world it is trying to create.

Furthermore, there is a plentiful catalog of sleight of hand material that could have comprised the magic acts, without having to backslide into improbable stunt magic. For instance, there is a scene in which someone levitates inside a bubble without a harness. That is not a likely real-life effect but it is a possible one and yet the movie treats it as an example that real sorcery, might actually exist. Insert groans here.

The fact they never explain the illusion and treat it as magically influenced is really bothersome and cuts down the preconceived “realism” of the movie. All of this and there is an over reliance on special effects, which seem to be included for no other reason than to simply have them.

On the story side of things, there is a total lack of character development between the team of magicians. Much of the blame for that rests in the overemphasis placed on Mark Ruffalo’s character. Less would have been more, when it came to his presence. What the magicians are doing, never convincingly warrants his character’s outrage.

Given the vast size of the ensemble, it was already going to be difficult to allocate adequate screen time to everyone. Add in the excessive amount, allotted to Ruffalo’s FBI agent and their screen time diminishes exponentially.

The cast assembled for “Now You See Me” is terrific and each receives a “moment” to shine. For his part, Jesse Eisenberg seems to recycle his performance from “The Social Network”, when he should have reused his performance from “30 Minutes or Less”. The angry nerd, tyrant shtick from his Oscar nominated performance is not nearly as enjoyable, as the frustrated geek he played in the latter comedy. 

The always spot-on Woody Harrelson nails all of his comedic one-liners and he and Eisenberg’s sparring is well executed, gifting the movie with one of its brighter highlights. The adorable Isla Fisher is a scene stealer as the lone female magician and her plucky demeanor is always a welcomed addition to any cast.

Dave Franco does a great job with what he is given, though it is not a lot. After breakout roles in “21 Jump Street” among others, he has proven to be an actor of untapped potential and “Now You See Me” is another movie that fails to capitalize on it. 

For Michael Caine, the news is even less positive, as the talent of the iconic thesp is absolutely wasted in a thanklessly limited role. It is a similar fate shared by co-star Melanie Laurent, who is also stricken with “nothing to do” syndrome.

Thankfully avoiding this issue is Morgan Freeman, who revisits a screen persona he has not had a chance to indulge in since “Hard Rain”. “Now You See Me” offers Freeman his meatiest role in years and he makes the most of it. Unfortunately, Mark Ruffalo feels largely miscast in his central role.

If you want to see a great movie set in the world of magic, you would be better off watching “The Prestige” or “Make Believe”; a documentary that follows a group of young, aspiring magicians as they try to make their dreams come true.

All in all, “Now You See Me” is an engaging caper and had initial expectations been lower, it would have probably been received a lot better. Given the potential greatness of its script, “Now You See Me” turns out to be more problematic than magic. Rating: 7/10