Saturday, June 1, 2013

In Theaters: NOW YOU SEE ME (2013)

(US - 2013)

Directed by Louis Leterrier.  Written by Ed Solomon, Boaz Yakin, and Edward Ricourt.  Cast: Jesse Eisenberg, Mark Ruffalo, Woody Harrelson, Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine, Melanie Laurent, Isla Fisher, Dave Franco, Common, Michael Kelly, David Warshofsky, Jose Garcia, Caitriona Balfe. (PG-13, 110 mins)

A sort-of OCEAN'S MAGICIANS if you will, the fast-paced NOW YOU SEE ME is a light-hearted and mostly enjoyable caper movie that has elaborate, large-scale heists being pulled off by a team of celebrity illusionists.  The team--dubbed "The Four Horsemen"--consists of the cocky J. Daniel Atlas (Jesse Eisenberg), mentalist/hypnotist Merritt Osbourne (Woody Harrelson), escape artist Henley Reeves (Isla Fisher), and con man Jack Wilder (Dave Franco), assembled a year earlier when they were scraping by as small-time hustlers and street magicians, brought together by an elusive fifth horseman.  The Four Horsemen stage the first of three jobs as part of a mysterious plan that, of course, doesn't reveal itself until the very end:  first they somehow empty a bank vault in Paris while on stage in Vegas.  Then, in New Orleans, they drain the bank account of their sponsor and insurance magnate Arthur Tressler (Michael Caine) and deposit the money into the accounts of the audience members, all victims of Hurricane Katrina whose claims were shot down by Tressler's company.  Finally, they plot to steal a huge safe in NYC.  But why?

Irate FBI agent Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo) teams with French Interpol agent Alma Dray (Melanie Laurent) to investigate, but can't hold the Horsemen because there's really no proof that they did anything.  The magic isn't real and despite their open admission of guilt, they can't be detained or charged because, as Doug Henning might say, "it's an illusion!"  Also tracking the Horsemen is Thaddeus Bradley (Morgan Freeman), a magic expert who hosts a popular cable TV show that exposes and debunks magic tricks and those who perform them.  Bradley is being paid $5 million by a mystery benefactor to expose the Horsemen and their tricks, and Rhodes immediately suspects him to be the fifth Horseman.

"The closer you look, the less you'll actually see" is a common refrain for the characters in NOW YOU SEE ME, and with the inevitable twist--and it's a whopper--the film kinda flies off the rails a bit.  The filmmakers--director Louis Leterrier (TRANSPORTER 2, THE INCREDIBLE HULK) and writers Ed Solomon (MEN IN BLACK), Boaz Yakin (FRESH, SAFE), and Edward Ricourt--generally play fair when you go back and re-examine the film upon learning the fifth horseman's identity, but it does get a little silly by the end, and the subplot about the secret magician's society and the "Eye of Horus" never really comes together.  But when NOW YOU SEE ME is focused on the caper and the characters, it's great fun throughout.  The banter between the magicians is well-played, particularly by Eisenberg and Harrelson, and Ruffalo's teeth-gritting slow burn throughout, especially when losing his patience with Eisenberg (playing his SOCIAL NETWORK smug condescension act for laughs) or in his verbal sparring with Freeman (illustrating a trick, Freeman asks "What's the magic word?" to which Ruffalo replies "Blow me") is very entertaining.  The film tries too hard to knock your socks off by the end, and of course you can pick it apart and see the lapses in logic if you really want to (and there's too much CGI in some of the magic trickery), but we're not dealing with THE ASPHALT JUNGLE, BOB LA FLAMBEUR, or THIEF here.  It's a summer movie with laughs, suspense, and a likable cast (even Freeman is uncharacteristically loose throughout, and it's always great to see an enraged Caine spitting out his dialogue), but it finally stumbles when it isn't content to just be what it is.  Another script polish--and fleshing out or just eliminating all the Horus stuff--might've made a good movie better, but as it is, it's still quite fun.

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