The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


Now You See Me

Movies about magicians seem to come in pairs. In 2006, The Prestige and The Illusionist were released within just a few months of each other. This year, we had The Incredible Burt Wonderstone in March, and now comes Now You See Me. This is a magician movie unlike any other, though, in that it uses prestidigitation as the basis for a heist story.

The four main characters are all different types of magicians: arrogant slight-of-hand artist Daniel Atlas (Jesse Eisenberg), mentalist Merritt McKinney (Woody Harrelson); shock magician Henley Reeves (Isla Fisher), and street magician Jack Wilder (Dave Franco). The four are brought together by an unseen, Keyser Soze-like figure who turns them into a team known as the Four Horsemen. Their gimmick is most unusual, in that, while onstage, they somehow rob banks and give the money to their audiences. Mark Ruffalo and Melanie Laurent play a cop and an Interpol agent trying to figure out how and why they're doing it, Morgan Freeman is a professional debunker trying to help them put the pieces together, and Michael Caine is the producer of the Four Horsemen show.

Let's get something out of the way. Now You See Me is completely implausible and full of plot holes. Many of the tricks the Four Horsemen perform are impossible, except through the magic of CGI. The scene where Henley flies in a soap bubble blown by Daniel is a stellar example. I think the film overall would have been stronger if their tricks were things magicians can really do. Also, thinking about some of the plot details too much makes one realize that certain things don't add up or make a lot of sense.

Let's get something else out of the way. I didn't care all that much about the implausibility or plot holes because the movie is start-to-finish fun. Director Louis Letterier (The Incredible Hulk, Clash of the Titans) gives it a satisfying shot of adrenaline through his tight pacing and ever-moving cameras. And while most of the tricks performed by the Four Horsemen aren't possible, they are at least based on real magic concepts, so that they seem like variations of things you've seen before. That keeps them from becoming distracting in their frequent lack of realism. Best of all, Now You See Me structures itself as a magic trick, causing you to wonder how the characters could possibly be doing this stuff. The difference is, unlike a real magician, the movie eventually shows you how it was done. Keeping its tone similar to the subject matter provides the same kind of entertainment value you might get if you went to see an illusionist perform.

All the actors are effectively used, but the standouts are Jesse Eisenberg and Mark Ruffalo. Eisenberg does a variation on his Mark Zuckerberg here, but that's okay, because he plays an arrogant prick better than just about anyone in Hollywood. I love it when he's got a character like that to sink his teeth into. Ruffalo, meanwhile, is the guy who is perpetually frustrated that he can't figure out the trick. That kind of thing can occasionally lead to one-note performances, yet Ruffalo keeps finding new ways to hit the same general note.

Unlike Ruffalo, I actually figured the trick (or at least part of it) out before Now You See Me showed me what was up its sleeve. The movie keeps telling you to “look closer,” and if you heed its advice, you can probably guess the big revelation, too. Still, the bottom line is whether or not a movie entertains you, and Now You See Me entertained me completely. If you don't mind that it's set more in a fantasy world than the real one, it's a whole lot of fun.

( out of four)

Now You See Me is rated PG-13 for language, some action and sexual content. The running time is 1 hour and 56 minutes.

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