Now You See Me, Now You Shouldn't
The movie "Now You See Me" is tale of four magicians Daniel (Jesse Eisenberg), Henley (Isla Fisher), Jack (Dave Franco) and Merritt (Woody Harrelson) who are assembled by a mysterious stranger so they can rob banks through their collected talents and distribute the loot to the needy. The public first notices them during a Las Vegas show. They pick someone randomly from the audience and tell him they are going to rob his bank and give the money to the audience. Their "volunteer" happens to be from Paris and his bank is French. With a camera strapped to his teleport helmet he is transported into the bank’s vault. The audience is able to watch as he walks around brinks of money. The magicians ask him to leave his Las Vegas ticket and a playing card on which he signed his name in the middle of the stack of money. They then suck the money up from the vault and miraculously it descends upon the audience. Needless to say they become a big attraction.
They also attract the authorities led by FBI agent Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo). Agent Dylan is one of those hard nose street wise agents who know nothing of magic but knows how to knock some heads around. He is teamed up with French Agent Alma Dray (Melanie Laurent) from Interpol who is investigating the robbery of the French bank. Another interested party is Thaddeus Bradley (Morgan Freeman) who as an ex-magician making a living at debunking other magician’s tricks. He follows the group and records their show breaking down how they’re able to perform the stunts that they do. Add to that Arthur Tressler (Michael Caine) who bank rolls the groups’ shows until he becomes a target. Dylan asks for Thaddeus’ help since he is clueless about magic while Alma teaches herself about the origins of magic. Thaddeus tells them that magic is deception and illusion. The point is to focus the audience’s eyes on one spot while the trick is happening somewhere else. He warns the detectives not to look too closely or they’ll miss "the big score" the group is setting up. The premise of this story is exciting. The actual movie is as empty as the box the rabbit goes in to.
Just as magic is an illusion so are the movies. But the illusion of the movies works when the audience can connect with it. First and foremost that is where story and characters come into play. Written by Ed Solomon ("Men in Black," "Charlie’s Angels"), Boaz Yakin ("Safe," "Death in Love") and Edward Ricourt the schemes are explained partially but still feel empty and untrue. The elaborate set-ups are preposterous and would have been better left unexplained. The dialogue hasn’t been this lousy since the low-budget movies of the 70’s. A romance was thrown in for who knows why and there is a twist that is so shocking that it makes as much sense as the rest of the movie. Twists work when there are clues spread around that come together at the end. This twist comes from nowhere.
At least the director Louis Leterrier ("The Transporter," "Clash of the Titans") does all he can just short of rewriting the script to keep things moving. He is helped by an all star cast who take the dialogue seriously and does their best to sell it. Unfortunately we aren’t buying.
Mr. Ruffalo is especially good at portraying one of those cops who takes a case personally and is way out of his element. There is a throwback moment that reminded me of "The Thomas Crown Affair" (1968) when the police detective finds out he’s been partnered with the agent from the insurance company played by Faye Dunaway. Mr. Ruffalo has the same reaction when he finds out he’s being teamed with Agent Dray. He seems to be drawing from the cop movies of the 70’s and its very entertaining to watch. The rest of the cast make the movie worth sitting through although they have strong competition from a wasteful script.