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4 reviews, 11 user ratings

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Now You See Me
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by Peter Sobczynski

"To The Tony Wonder"
1 stars

Just because a movie is awesomely dumb does not mean that it cannot also be awesomely entertaining at the same time. After all, last week's "Fast & Furious 6" is one of the loopiest things that you will ever see but it deploys its increasingly ludicrous material with enough wit, style and self-awareness in regards to its inherently illogical behavior--it knows that it is basically a live-action cartoon but its characters for the most part never act as if they are in one--to make it work against all odds. If "Fast & Furious 6" is the best kind of dumb, then "Now You See Me" is the worst kind--a movie whose jaw-dropping idiocies are compounded even further by its bizarre self-delusion that it is somehow being smart and clever. See this film--though you really shouldn't--and I can almost guarantee that it will be the stupidest entertainment-related thing of any sort that you will encounter this summer that does not involve handing part of your hard-earned money over to Zach Braff.

As the film opens, four unknown magicians--snotty illusionist Atlas (Jesse Eisenberg), mentalist McKinney (Woody Harrelson), sleight-of-hand artist Jack (Dave Franco) and "Prestige" enthusiast Henley (Isla Fisher)--are recruited by a mysterious person and charged with becoming the greatest group of magicians ever assembled; they are sort of like the Traveling Wilburys of prestidigitation though in this case, all four of them are Jeff Lynne. Anyway, a year passes and when we catch up with the gang, they are now headlining the biggest show in Vegas with the underwriting of the fabulously rich and snotty Arthur Tessler (Michael Caine). During their latest performance, they bring a French banker up on stage as a volunteer for their final trick, which involves apparently zapping him to his own bank in Paris and having him steal millions of dollars from the vault. It all seems like fun and games, of course, until it turns out that the money really is missing. The gang is quickly arrested but since the feds, led by Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo), have no proof that they have the money and since thousands of witnesses can attest that they never left the stage, the cops are forced to let them go.

Of course, Rhodes knows that they are guilty but has no idea of how to prove it, though he soon receives the assistance of two people willing to give him a hand. One is the lovely Interpol officer Alma Dray (Melanie Laurent), a rookie on her first international assignment who is still optimistic enough to believe that magic does indeed exist to a certain degree. The other is Thaddeus Bradley (Morgan Freeman), a professional debunker of magic tricks (I believe the technical term is "douchebag") whose DVDs revealing the secrets of grand illusions have made him lots of money, inadvertently led to at least one death and have presumably earned him a lifetime ban from the Alliance. The problem is that while Thaddeus can explain the illusion of how the banker seemed to wind up in Paris easily enough, he cannot quite figure out how the money disappeared nor where it wound up.

At this point, the gang announces a new show in New Orleans and before the eyes of the entire world, they pull off another astonishing finale--one that leaves Tessler seriously reconsidering future sponsorship deals--before once again eluding Rhodes and Dray. Eventually, they all wind up in New York where the group promises to pull off their final and biggest trick while Rhodes and Dray race against time to figure out who they are, why they are pulling elaborate crimes that they seem to derive zero profit from and what their next target will be. Of course, Bradley is confident that he is one step ahead of the quartet at every step of the game but as things progress, it seems as thought that notion may be as much of an illusion as everything else.

As we learned a couple of months ago from the largely forgettable "The Incredible Burt Wonderstone," no matter how spectacular they may appear to be when performed before our very eyes in person, magic tricks lose approximately 98% of their effectiveness when they are put on film because they have either been gussied up through the miracles of post-production or because viewers simply assume that there are a number of camera and editing tricks at work behind-the-scenes to help sell the illusions. Therefore, if a movie dealing with magic is to have any chance of working at all, it has to do one of two things-it has to either figure out an interesting way to acknowledge the fact that magic of this type generally doesn't work when not seen live, as was the case with the brilliant and underrated "Penn & Teller Get Killed," or it has to come up with a story so spectacular and engrossing that viewers will be too involved with the narrative to pay much attention to the artificial nature of the illusions.

Either approach might have made for a watchable movie but "Now You See Me" eschews both and the results are pretty much disastrous throughout. For starters, the tricks that are deployed throughout look like the kind of wildly elaborate special-effects showcases that places like ILM and WETA spend thousands of man-hours and millions of dollars to put together successfully. That's fine but the trouble is that the film is also asking us to believe that these intricately designed illusions could somehow be pulled off in the real world by a few magicians in front of thousands of people, often under rushed conditions and apparently without even so much as a simple technical run-through to iron the bugs out. (For that matter, since the gang doesn't even have a technical crew, who is running the show and how do they keep from running afoul of union officials who might have their own ideas for making someone disappear?)

Oh sure, by bringing on the Freeman character to explain some of their tricks, the filmmakers no doubt thought they were being clever at pull the rug out from under viewers a la Penn & Teller and then telling them how they were fooled. Unfortunately, these explanations are not nearly as mind-blowing as the filmmakers apparently thought them to be (the fact that the Feds couldn't figure out how the guy supposedly got to Paris does not say very much about their deductive abilities) and when it comes to the truly ridiculous stuff, they don''t have the nerve to offer up any kind of explanation as to how they were done, let alone a plausible one. Even on the level of simple eye candy, the visual tricks here are not especially spectacular--they have the kind of blandly uneventful feels that suggests they were slapped together by the f/x groups after they had spent most of their time and energy on projects for which they had a real feel and connection.

And if you think the tricks on display are uninspiring and implausible, wait until you get a load of the rest of the film that they are working in the service of. Granted, the idea of a group of magicians pulling off a series of elaborate heists has a certain undeniable appeal to it--as gimmicky ideas go, this is a reasonably inspired one--but it appears that when it came time to devise a story to utilize said gimmick, there was no more inspiration left to be had. Three screenwriters--Ed Solomon, Boaz Yakin and Edward R. Cart--laboriously strain to make something out of the premise but what they have come up with here is a narrative construction so lazy and haphazard that it would have failed to pass muster as the basis of a middling-at-best episode of a formulaic crime show along the lines of the vaguely remembered likes of "Switch" or "It Takes a Thief."

It is bad enough that the story itself is idiotic and makes absolutely no sense but what makes it worse is that it seems to think that it is oh so smart and clever even when its big twists and turns turn out to be anything but surprising. For example, there is much speculation about the identity of the person that recruited the gang in the first place and who appears to be pulling the strings from afar. However, this is one of those screenplays that is so lazy that all you to do in order to figure out their identity is to identify the most seemingly pointless and unnecessary character in the story and focus on them. That said, that is a little harder here simply because all of the characters are largely pointless and unnecessary.

In doing interviews promoting "Now You See Me," director Louis Leterrier has been denouncing his previous film, the awful remake of "Clash of the Titans," as being a piece of junk, albeit largely because of the infamously rotten last-minute conversion to 3-D that was tacked on by the studio in order to capitalize on the success of "Avatar." As this is just as bad as that one--though it thankfully does not require the use of special eyewear--don't be surprised if the press tour for his next film finds him making apologies for this one as well. His work here somehow manages to be both chaotic and catatonic in nature and lacks all of the excitement and visual flair that he brought to earlier directorial efforts like the first two "Transporter" films and the oddball Jet Li vehicle "Unleashed." (Of course, his work here also lacks the significant presence of the great Luc Besson, who wrote, produced and presumably exerted a certain degree of artistic influence on those projects.)

The only truly amazing thing that he does here is take a surprisingly strong and interesting group of actors and squander their talents so throughly that it is almost as if they have disappeared. Of them, none is wasted so thoroughly as Michael Caine as one of the bad guys--not only is this arguably the laziest performance that he has half-delivered since the days when he was coasting through easy paychecks like "The Swarm" and "Jaws IV" but his very presence serves as a sad reminder that he once appeared in one of the very best movies about magicians ever made--"The Prestige"--and therefore what a movie of this type could be when put in the right hands.

"Now You See Me" is a film that is as dumb as it can be and what little entertainment and excitement there is to be derived from it comes from seeing just how stupid things will get as things progress. To that extent, it does exert a certain perverse appeal but beyond that, it just squanders an interesting idea and a good cast on a film that deserves neither. If you want to see a good movie dealing with the notion of magic, there is a fascinating new documentary making its way across the country called "Deceptive Practice: The Mysteries and Mentors of Ricky Jay" that looks at the life and work of the famed illusionist, actor and all-around raconteur in as entertaining and exciting a manner as one could possibly hope. "Now You See Me," by comparison, may have big stars and a lavish budget behind it but without the necessary inspiration, it is less Houdini and more "who cares?"

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=23794&reviewer=389
originally posted: 05/30/13 13:21:45
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User Comments

2/24/15 stanley welles not much up its sleeve 1 stars
1/21/15 zenny Kinda dumb. Or really dumb. Either way, "dumb" is the operative word here. 2 stars
11/22/13 Patricia good cast, fun movie 4 stars
10/27/13 silaaron This movie was great, I hear 6 year olds say you can't do that(irl) Think of something else 4 stars
9/09/13 Charles Tatum Not the disaster you've heard of, Ruffalo and cast carry it. 4 stars
8/31/13 Booch It would've been much better if ruffalo simply got pissed and turned green 1 stars
8/28/13 Langano Not bad, kept my interest. 3 stars
6/23/13 The Big D Original concept, and the ending was ok, but the magicians' snotty attitudes were annoying! 3 stars
6/13/13 Tom jenkins Now you 'wish you didn't ' see me 1 stars
6/06/13 KingNeutron One of Ruffalo's best roles, IMHO - only thing I didn't like was the motion trackers. 4 stars
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  31-May-2013 (PG-13)
  DVD: 03-Sep-2013

  03-Jul-2013 (12A)

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