Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Now You See Me - Theatrical Review

Release Date: May 31, 2013

'Now You See Me' delivers the goods despite a few too many cards up its sleeve.

Review Vital Stats:  
Theater: AMC 16 Tyler Galleria
Time: 10:20 pm June 1, 2013   
Projector Type: Digital 2D  
Film Rating: PG-13   
Film Runtime: 1 hr 54 min
Studio: Summit Entertainment

Loves: Heist flicks
Likes: Magic, being tricked, the entire cast
Neutral: Being duped
Hates: Seeing behind the curtain   
Real life magic acts: Don't usually use CG

After being recruited by a mysterious benefactor, four disparate street magicians, card trick artist Daniel Atlas (Jesse Eisenberg), hypnotist Merritt McKinney (Woody Harrelson), escape artist Henley Reeves (Isla Fisher) and illusionist Jack Wilder (Dave Franco) use the knowledge bestowed upon them to create the greatest magic act ever seen. Dubbed The Four Horsemen, their first magic act takes place in Las Vegas where they seemingly do the impossible by robbing a bank halfway around the world without ever leaving the stage and then shower their score down upon the audience.

These modern day Robin Hoods are just getting started however, as they lead FBI agent Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo), his Interpol liaison Alma Dray (Melanie Laurent), former magician turned debunker Thaddeus Bradley (Morgan Freeman) and their ex-financier Arthur Tressler (Michael Caine) of whom they have left near penniless with their illusions, on a wild goose chase across the country.  If they can stay a couple steps ahead of their pursuers, The Four Horsemen have an opportunity to pull off the magic trick of a lifetime.

Part magician movie, part heist flick and part police procedural, director Louis Leterrier's new film "Now You See Me" is a strange hybrid of different genres that really shouldn't work together, but ultimately do. Not only that, but if it weren't for this strange mish-mash of well established movie formulas, the film wouldn't work nearly as well as it does. However, while all of its disparate parts come together to make a uniquely satisfying whole, this magic-caper flick is a little too much smoke and mirrors for its own good.

It's difficult to know where to start with a film like this. On a pure entertainment level, the film delivers. The characters, while one dimensional, exude enough charm and personality to become instantly likable. But as you watch each magic trick unfold, each illusion play out to its conclusion and each character meet their ultimate fate, there is something amiss, something that feels a little off. Almost like how one feels as they are watching a magician perform an amazing trick, but knows deep down inside that it is just a well constructed illusion meant to distract them so that they do not question what they are seeing.

The film's first, and greatest, magic act is in its casting. The Four Horsemen are not characters in the traditional sense. They have no individual ambitions, no discernible lives outside their magic careers and we only ever see them either on stage performing or backstage preparing for their next trick. In order to hide this lack of dimensionality, the film pulls a clever sleight of hand and gives us four actors with flamboyant personalities to disguise the fact that our main characters are nothing more than devices or props for the show.

This problematic development is alleviated slightly with the introduction of the Rhodes character, the FBI agent assigned to find out what they are doing and take them down. Bolstered by yet another clever bit of casting with Mark Ruffalo turning in a fun performance as the increasingly manic FBI agent Rhodes, he single handidly takes center stage as our only truly sympathetic character in the entire film. Even when we are rooting for the Four Horsemen as they rob from the rich and give to the poor, we also can't help but root for Rhodes to somehow outsmart them at some point.

Furthermore, putting legendary actors like Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine into minor supporting roles helps give weight to other characters who otherwise would be nothing more than a distraction, but none of this still fixes the inherent issue that almost no one in the film feels relatable or even real. All the characters feel larger than life and that becomes a problem only when something happens to any of them and you suddenly realize that you just don't really care, which shouldn't be the case if you were wondering.

Luckily the film has many bags of tricks and is able to pull a rabbit out of its hat and provide some astounding, albeit unbelievable, feats of magic that do truly amaze. Like any good showman, if you dazzle your audience with enough spectacle, which Leterrier does with abandon, they will forgive you for a lot and such is the case for "Now You See Me". Each time the Four Horsemen take the stage it becomes near impossible to not get caught up in the moment.

The bank heist side of the film isn't nearly are prevalent as you might think, although the people responsible for the Ocean's movies really need to talk about royalties, and thankfully lets the magic take the spotlight. Let's face it, we have seen countless of heist films where a group of strangers are brought together for the common goal of their own selfish desires, but what you haven't see before is how to rob a bank in Europe while simultaneously in front of hundreds of people in Las Vegas.

Seems impossible? Well, that leads into the films only other potential pitfall, the obligatory explain-it-all ending that tries to tie everything up at the end and help make sense of everything that came before it. While most of the explanations given do hold water, there are some revelations that are shown, but still not explained, that never answers any real questions. For instance, if someone was involved in a seemingly deadly accident and is later revealed to be alright, we have our doubts proven right but it still never shows how the person was able to live through such a thing.

By giving us this explanation however, the film begins to show its own true hypocritical colors. Everyone knows that a magic trick only stays effective if you leave it ambiguous enough so that your audience can put some pieces of the puzzle together but never all of it. Well, "Now You See Me" breaks the cardinal rule of every magician and pulls back the curtain to reveal its wizard, and while it is certainly a worthy "A-Ha!" moment, the subsequent retelling of every single magic trick feels a bit unnecessary.

It is important to note that most of this is never a problem while watching the film. Besides the obvious CG trickery used in some of the magic acts and the aforementioned lack of any real heart or soul to any of the characters, these nitpicks and criticisms only really sprang to mind after leaving the theater. If you go in ready to allow yourself to be captivated by the films admittedly attractive visual wizardry, you will have a good time with it. Just don't try to out smart the magician or you run the risk of ruining the entire experience for yourself.





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