A dazzling, lightning-fast Ocean’s 11-style caper movie that never pauses long enough for you to consider the preposterous plot mechanics, Now You See Me won’t hold up in retrospect but it’s plenty fun while it’s unfolding. This is the kind of glitzy, star-studded collaboration that they just don’t make any more.
The premise is irresistible: a group of magicians and small-time con artists are brought together to pull off a series of incredibly intricate heists in the guise of large-scale public performances. The quartet, called The Horsemen, include ladies’ man Daniel Atlas (Jesse Eisenberg), escape artist Henley Reeves (Isla Fisher), hypnotist Merrit McKinney (Woody Harrelson), and sleight-of-hand con man Jack Wilder (Dave Franco).
After a distended prologue that sees our heroes brought together by a mysterious benefactor, their first performance is a real doozy: from a Las Vegas stage, they seem to transport an audience member inside of a French bank vault, where the money is sucked out via a vacuum and dispersed amongst their crowd.
Here’s the real kicker: the bank has actually been robbed. But how did they do it? FBI agent Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo) and Interpol agent Alma Vargas (Mélanie Laurent) take them in – the Horsemen aren’t hiding – but struggle to bring up charges; unless they can figure out how the trick was done, arresting them at this point would be confessing a belief in their magic.
That’s where Thaddeus Bradley (Morgan Freeman), an ex-magician turned professional debunker, comes in to play. As Thaddeus works out the ludicrous, but highly inventive, trick for the authorities – which would normally be a big third act reveal – it’s a joy knowing there’s still plenty more magic and heists to come.
Not that any of it will make a lick of sense. You can either go with this stuff or not, but you’ll know what’s in store after that initial caper. It goes without saying that the film itself dazzles the audience in the same manner as its characters, with glitz and showmanship covering up the sleight of hand; if you don’t appreciate being played, you’d be well advised to stay away.
The cast here is a big draw, though few of the performers stand out; the central characters are surprisingly thinly sketched. But Franco – who immediately recalls older brother James – makes an impression, especially during a dynamic fight/getaway sequence; Ruffalo and Laurent are also fun to watch as the agents on the case. Michael Caine shows up as the group’s financial supporter, but gets precious little to do.
Director Louis Leterrier previously made the hyper-kinetic (first two) Transporter movies and the terrific (and underrated) Jet Li action movie Unleashed before cashing in with The Incredible Hulk and Clash of the Titans. With Now You See Me, he proves that he can handle complex, twisty-turny plot mechanics just as well as he can action.
Now You See Me may not be a refined, carefully-plotted piece of entertainment – and by the finale, which tries to tie up as many loose ends as possible in the shortest amount of time, the seams start to show – but go with it and you might have some fun here. Just don’t look at it too closely. “The closer you think you are, the less you’ll actually see.”