Monday Movie Review: Now You See Me

I love a good heist movie. The Ocean’s trilogy. The Italian Job. And my personal favourite, The Thomas Crown Affair (the 1999 remake). There’s something immensely satisfying about watching our trickster hero, or heroes, enact an intricate plan that leaves the authorities scratching their heads over an empty safe. So what could possibly be better than a heist movie centred on stage magicians who steal from the privileged rich to give to the poor everyman?

A lot actually. Sadly.

And yes, action-thriller Now You See Me certainly starts off with incredible promise. Four magicians – an illusionist (Jesse Eisenberg), mentalist (Woody Harrelson), escape artist (Isla Fisher) and street magician (Dave Franco) are brought together to perform a series of high-profile robberies that will grant them fame, fortune and entry into an exclusive order that teaches its hand-selected members the secrets of real magic.

It sounds fantastic, and it looks even better. Director Louis (The Transporter, The Incredible Hulk) Leterrier brings a lot of visual flair – sometimes a bit too much, in fact – to already zippy proceedings. Now You See Me starts off feeling breezy and fun. Think shiny Christopher Nolan-lite, where it’s still in your best interest to remember every throwaway line and sleight of hand gesture, as they’re sure to have narrative significance later.

Unfortunately though, the filmmakers make a massive miscalculation. Now You See Me should have centred on the four illusionists – who become an entertainment sensation known as the Four Horsemen – developing their already interesting characters. It should have delved into their professional and romantic rivalries, and, finally, their fears as their high profile actions catch the attention of the FBI and Interpol… and they’re longer as far ahead of the authorities as they think they are.

This is what should have been the focus of Now You See Me. Unfortunately though, after a strong opening third, the audience is tugged away from the illusionists and forced to spend 80% of the movie accompanying Mark Ruffalo’s frazzled FBI agent as he tries to catch them. And he is always three steps behind. His story is just not that interesting, even when he’s sharing the screen with veteran heavyweights like Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine.

There are attempts to inject life back into the film – a couple of sequences enjoyably mix parkour, magic and car chases. It’s just that it feels like smoke and mirrors (ha!), designed to distract you from the fact that there’s a more interesting film lurking beneath the surface. And this film disappointingly hasn’t been shot.

Similarly disappointing is how Now You See Me wastes its charismatic cast. The strong line-up is likely to lure you into the cinema, but most of the big names go underutilised. For the record, it’s Harrelson who emerges, rather unsurprisingly, as the audience favourite seeing as he provides most of the comic relief.

In the end, Now You See Me is far from bad. It’s just that it’s not fully satisfying either, particularly in terms of its pay-off. It likes to think that it’s very clever but that’s not the film’s greatest strength at all. Instead, its real pluses – the film’s concept and cast – are squandered.

2.5 stars out of 5.


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