Sunday, June 23, 2013

Now You See Me

I can freely admit how odd it was that I wasn't super excited to see this film initially. I generally enjoy magician-themed films (The Prestige), and many of the actors featured in this movie are some that I really enjoy. Perhaps it was the abundance of competing releases that were more enticing (Iron Man 3, Star Trek Into Darkness, etc.), but Now You See Me pretty much went unnoticed by me until about a month prior to its release. From the director of one of my guilty pleasure Marvel favorites, The Incredible Hulk, I hoped Louis Leterrier would be able to recreate the fun and excitement of that film in this very different kind of story.

Now You See Me starts with four magicians working separately but each catching the eye of a mysterious benefactor. Each of them is invited to an empty apartment where they are given blueprints to a fantastical contraption of some kind. One year later, they are known as "The Four Horsemen", bringing down the house after supposedly robbing a French bank as part of their Las Vegas act and spreading the wealth among the audience members. This attracts the unwanted attention of FBI agent Rhodes who begins an investigation to track down the thieves. Working with professional magician revealer, Thaddeus Bradley, Rhodes tries to uncover their secret and determine their next step before it's too late. The trouble is, the closer he looks, the less he actually sees.

I have to say, this was a pretty enjoyable film for about the first 2/3 of its running time. There were entertaining magic sequences, good performances, clever dialogues, etc. This movie looks really great and I was enjoying it on that level, but at a certain point the script bites off way more than it can chew as it tries to "blow your mind" at the expense of coherent storytelling. The film sets up an interesting mystery, and though I won't spoil anything in this review, I found the final act to be a little uneven when compared to the rest of the story.

Some of the performances are rather good, even if they are ultimately ill-served by the script. Jesse Eisenberg always plays a convincing jerk with a superiority complex, and Isla Fisher is her usual quirky, ball-busting self. However, the standout for me was Woody Harrelson, whose comic timing was probably the best thing about this film. It's too bad he didn't have more screen-time. Other than that, I found Michael Caine, who is normally great, to be a little flat with his line readings, and Morgan Freeman is best when he isn't playing a "bad" or even morally ambiguous character. Overall, I liked the players individually better than as a team and kind of wish the film had chosen to focus on just one or two characters.

There is a lot of on-screen talent, but I found myself disengaging when the realization struck me that this attempt at a great caper was not the clever movie I was hoping to see. Any script that does better when it isn't trying to be ambitious beyond typical "summer popcorn" entertainment, should probably just stick to its strengths. For those who haven't seen it, I weakly recommend checking it out for some of the eye-candy presented in the first 90 minutes, but with the disclaimer that I found the ending to be a little tacked-on and frankly nonsensical.

Speaking of eye-candy, I guess watching this movie is a little like gorging on Starbursts or jelly beans - it's fun at first, but isn't wholly satisfying or memorable and kind of leaves you wondering why you did it in the first place. There were a lot of things I liked about this film, and I do appreciate the story they were attempting to tell... it just didn't have the right talent behind it to pull it off. I understand a lot of the positive reviews from family and friends, but I guess I had the exact reaction the film warned me about from the get-go: the closer I looked, the less sense it all made. I give Now You See Me two and a half stars.

NOW YOU SEE ME is rated PG-13 for language, some action and sexual content