[Screen It]


(2013) (Jesse Eisenberg, Mark Ruffalo) (PG-13)

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Drama: An FBI agent and Interpol detective try to catch four magicians whose big acts involve elaborate heists of large sums of money.
J. Daniel Atlas (JESSE EISENBERG), his former assistant Henley Reeves (ISLA FISHER) and Merritt McKinney (WOODY HARRELSON) are established magicians used to impressing their audiences, both big and small. But during their latest acts, they discover they've been left mysterious cards inviting them to a particular place in New York at a particular time. Joining them there is young magician Jack Wilder (DAVE FRANCO) who's been a fan of theirs but is equally perplexed about the invite.

A year later, all four are working together for wealthy businessman Arthur Tressler (MICHAEL CAINE) as the "Four Horsemen" stage act and they pull off an incredible stunt and sleight of hand by robbing a bank in Paris while still on the stage in Las Vegas. That not only has former magician turned debunker Thaddeus Bradley (MORGAN FREEMAN) interested in what they have up their sleeves, but also FBI agent Dylan Rhodes (MARK RUFFALO) who wants them arrested. So does Interpol detective Alma Dray (MELANIE LAURENT) who's arrived in the States and become Dylan's unofficial partner of sorts, much to the dismay of both of them.

As the magicians prepare their next big act, the law enforcement officers try to keep up with them, all while Thaddeus warns that they're more than likely several steps behind what's transpiring.

OUR TAKE: 5 out of 10
Here's the thing about magicians and their magic acts. Everyone wants to know how they do a certain trick. But they also don't want to know because that then ruins the illusion. Not to mention the mystery of trying to figure it out, particularly if it's something fairly complex or mind-blowing in terms of the laws of physics.

The old saying, of course, is that seeing is believing, and thus the "magic" that one sees during such performances does manage to seem real. That's especially true if seen in person in the presence of a professional. When seen in some recorded form (be that on TV, DVD, online or in a movie), there's the nagging thought rattling around inside your head that editing or special effects were employed and deployed to pull it off, thus similarly destroying the illusion and introducing disbelief.

All of that comes into play in "Now You See Me," a fairly lively crime drama about a quartet of magicians (played by Jesse Eisenberg, Isla Fisher, Woody Harrelson and Dave Franco) who are using their tricks of the trade to pull off some elaborate heists of large sums of money, Robin Hood style.

The film starts off well, with each seen doing their thing before being mysteriously summoned together. A year later, they're performing in Vegas before a huge crowd (and their multi-millionaire benefactor played by Michael Caine) and seemingly rob a bank in Paris while still standing on a stage in Sin City.

It's a decent opening that only seems to get better as the four are interrogated by an FBI agent (Mark Ruffalo) but show no signs of fear or remorse. Instead, they're cocky, arrogant and even funny, taunting the G-man that they are and always will be several steps ahead of him and an Interpol detective (Melanie Laurent) who's now also on the case. Even a former magician turned debunker (Morgan Freeman) agrees, seemingly setting the stage for a fun and interesting nearly two hours of time watching all of that unfold.

At times, it's just that, but director Louis Leterrier (the first two "Transporter" films, along with "Clash of the Titans" and 2008's "The Incredible Hulk") and his trio of scribes, Ed Solomon and Boaz Yakin & Edward Ricourt, can't manage to sustain that aura throughout. A big part of that problem stems from the fact that they feel the need for certain characters to explain exactly how certain things were pulled off, complete with flashback sequences for the unnecessary ruination of the previous illusions.

Granted, since the "magic" is being viewed in a film (rather than live and in person), one never truly believes it's happening, no more so than the similar visual effects and other trickery found in so many of today's big-budget spectacles. Even so, there's no reason for the filmmakers to offer something entertaining, only to diminish that later with a "how they did that" explanation that deflates a great deal of the overall fun, especially after repeated occurrences of that scenario.

Once we realize that's the modus operandi in play, the only real mystery revolves around who might be in on the magic heists with the quartet. Could it be the show's sponsor? Maybe the Interpol agent? How about the debunker? Or maybe it's a referenced but never seen magician who presumably died during a magic act gone bad decades earlier.

As it ultimately plays out, that aspect isn't terribly compelling, although the final character revelation isn't particularly believable. Perhaps if they had allowed the other magic to permeate the rest of the offering, I might have bought that surprise. As is stands, they didn't and thus neither did I.

At least the flick has a good cast, with some fairly big names involved. Yet, while they have their moments, some of them are underused (especially Caine, although Freeman also falls into that category as it would have been interesting to see his character more fully involved in the proceedings).

Many of the rest are barely fleshed out (including Franco who has some fun moments of using deception and such to battle Ruffalo's character). There's some romantic/sexual tension between Eisenberg (doing his usual fast-talking arrogant bit) and Fisher, as well as Ruffalo and Laurent, but much of that comes off as filler between the magic bits.

In the end, the film feels like a magic act that starts off promisingly and has some fun elements, but ultimately doesn't pay off that well. And the fact that it starts with a comment about "the closer you look, the less you see" proves fitting as a close examination of the mechanics here proves it's just fancy sleight of hand covering an otherwise mediocre script. "Now You See Me" rates as a 5 out of 10.

Reviewed May 29, 2013 / Posted May 31, 2013

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