From afar, Now You See Me appears a polished, glittery, mind-bending version of your average heist film – a great cast, eye-popping visuals, a peculiar premise. Yet, “the closer you look”…well, it’s not easier to fool you! On the contrary, once you peek under the veil of this “illusion” that adds up to less than its parts, the magic is gone! Still, while the stage for this “grand trick” is being set, there’s plenty of Hocus Pocus to entertain you.
The story, which centres around four street-magicians-turned-national-sensation-Robin-Hoods starts with a bang, set ablaze by introducing the four characters and their bags of tricks. The family-like chemistry between the foursome is seamlessly established – Jesse Eisenberg brings his The Social Network too-cool-for-school boyish arrogance; his past/present/future love interest Henley (Isla Fisher) adds the much-needed for a magic show sparkle; Dave Franco’s Jack fits in well with his little-brother-reminiscent role; and Woody Harrelson shines as cheeky, but warm Merritt, who brings them all together. Unfortunately for the potential-budding ensemble, the further we go down the Now You See Me rabbit hole, the more the four leads appear like stage assistants in their own show. With not enough screen time, lack of character development, and shifting of the focus off them, “The Four Horsemen”, as they bid themselves, end up being nothing more than razzle-dazzle props in FBI agent Dylan Rhodes’ (Marc Ruffalo) story. Let’s not even get started on Rhodes’ sidekick – French Interpol agent Alma Dray (Mélanie Laurent), who can easily win a contest for “Most useless and one-sidedly portrayed character”. “Too many French people in the same room”, exclaims Marc Ruffalo’s agent at one point, and he is not far from the truth – no offence!
In the storytelling department, things are not that magical either. Although the movie clearly aims to play more with your senses (aided by stunning visuals and symphony excerpts) rather than your mind, the lack of substance can hardly be excused when Christopher Nolan’s The Prestige is in existence. If you can look past that fact, there are plenty of twisty, engaging tricks to keep you occupied, which however, are explained too early and hastily to be the head-scratchers they would have had the potential of being. Add this to the too-obvious-of-a-revelation finale, and the only mystery left by the end of the film is how Morgan Freeman (playing magic debunker Thaddeus Bradley) has agreed to a role, where his screen appearance wraps up in a melodramatic cracking-voice-“whyyyy”-cry-towards-a-walking-away-rival scene.
In Now You See Me, you see a lot – stylish, elaborate and breathtaking magic numbers (which, mind you, in the era of CGI is probably not the biggest of accomplishments), humorous add-ons (like Marc Ruffalo’s agent chasing himself, or being buried under a group of people hypnotised to think they are a football team who need to tackle anyone who screams the word “Freeze!”), and clever sequences (like Dave Franco’s magician utilising various props, including playing cards – “Yes, really!”, when fighting Marc Ruffalo’s agent). Yet, what you don’t see is a bigger picture. As with most magic tricks, once the “Big Reveal” is done at the end of the film, the illusion is shattered and you can’t help but feel underwhelmed by the mundane explanation. Still, for a good portion of the movie, you are immersed in a “magical” world filled with smoke and mirrors, and you begin to understand how Alice must have felt when she had gone “through the Looking-Glass”. And in the days of too-often-brainless entertainment, this is one magic trick that deserves admiration – for its effort and aspiration, if not for anything else!
3/5 Marvelous points