Now You See Me is big on showmanship but its tricks are too easy to spot.
Is there a modern film one can think of that doesn't use some sort of CGI? It's almost become as necessary as light tents and a camera to make your film. Gone seem to be the days of Cecil B. DeMille's gargantuan sets, where actors stood in front of thousands giving these scenes a life of their own. CGI was supposed to be the cheaper fix, magically transporting audiences to ancient planets, alien invasions, and enchanted forests, and limited only by the imagination (and budget) of the director and their creative team. But CGI's impenetrable armor has always been filled with cracks, with audiences beleaguered as far back as The Phantom Menace - since then, stiff performances by actors pretending to be frightened or battling a digitized enemy have become more common than it should. For every visual eye feast like Lord of the Rings and Prometheus, there's Jack the Giant Slayer. Unfortunately, the magic-heist film Now You See Me wants CGI to also tell its tale, but the result doesn't match the expectation.
Four small-time magicians - Henley Reeves (Isla Fisher, Wedding Crashers), Jack Wilder (Dave Franco, Warm Bodies), Daniel Atlas (Jesse Eisenberg, The Social Network), and Merritt Osbourne (Woody Harrelson, Seven Psychopaths) - are brought together by a mysterious organization known as The Eye to pull off a series of bank heists under the name "The Four Horsemen." Within one year, they are selling out shows in Las Vegas, and their popularity has inspired the generous support of insurance magnate Arthur Tressler (Michael Caine, Dark Knight series). When their first heist leads to the disappearance of millions of French Euros thousands of miles away, the FBI gets involved. Agent Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo, The Avengers) is summoned to conduct the investigation, but his team is merely a pawn in The Horsemen's big game. The French bank sends Interpol Agent Alma Vargas (Mélanie Laurent, Inglorious Bastards) to assist Rhodes, who thinks this upstart has no place being at his side. Meanwhile, the television magician-debunker personality Thaddeus Bradley (Morgan Freeman, Oblivion) appears, hoping to expose The Four Horsemen for ratings sake. As the team of magicians steal from Tressler himself, Vargas and Rhodes learn that The Eye is really a secret society of magicians who are looking to grant the powers of true magic to The Horsemen. As the film leads to the final magic act, the FBI frantically pursue The Four Horsemen, even though they know any chance of catching the renegades is slim.
Director Louis Leterrier (The Incredible Hulk) has a balancing act of his own to pull off, and for the most part he fails, barely giving his actors time to recite the cheesy dialogue from Writers Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci (Star Trek: Into Darkness). As you may know, the team responsible for bringing Transformers to the big screen has a penchant for the story twist. In this case, it's a fifth member of The Eye who's working behind the scenes to disrupt the FBI. When that person is finally revealed, the effect is a dud; rather than showing how that person evaded authorities, Leterrier and team present a few cut scenes of that person trailing the Four Horsemen before officially recruiting them. That's not enough, especially when the pursuit begins and the situation can become more fluid. Whether Orci and Kurtzman realize it or not, such cues are necessary to help the audience wrap up the story and enjoy the process of learning about the twist. Our actors, while capable, never have time to investigate their roles, with the exception of Ruffalo and Laurent. This movie seems as much about their relationship - which didn't work for me from the start - as the heists themselves. There's little chemistry between this ensemble cast, which is strange considering the combined 15 Oscar nominations they share. Harrelson is the only standout here, trading a few well-placed comedic quips while trying to convince audiences that he can hypnotize a person with simply a Jedi Mind Trick. Eisenberg and Fisher, whose one-time love affair suddenly grows to a loving climax by the time the leader behind the Eye is exposed - feels totally out of place, making them merely pawns in the organization's big game, and never seem more than good-looking window dressing.
You've heard that See Me is supposedly the next Ocean's Eleven, but it also tries desperately to borrow from Christopher McQuarrie's terrific The Usual Suspects. It never comes close, with the reveal never well-explained (think Keyser Söze), and the 'ah!' moment disappearing into the mist like a well-oiled illusion. Magic-act films in the digital era suffer mightily because any chance of showing real slight-of-hand can get horribly blurred with CGI, which See Me has in copious amounts. From over-stylized building-sized light shows, to a dull sequence in a New Orleans theater, See Me doesn't sell its sizzle very well, relying on CGI to carry that burden instead of its actors and script, both of which seem ill-suited to the task. If Hollywood is in the business of creating believable illusions, then it's more important than ever that films about magic feel organic by balancing those slights-of-hand with stronger character stories.
Now You See Me looks good and sounds great, but like typical Summer films fails to conjure up a great story. With CGI making everything and anything possible these days, the tricks of this film feel strangely uninspired. Skip this one and instead try 2006's The Prestige. For now, Now You See Me is rated PG-13 and has a runtime of 116 minutes.
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