Doubtless the pitch was impressive: “Hey, imagine Ocean’s Eleven crossed with a killer magic act by David Copperfield. Plus we’ve got Morgan Freeman!”
Sadly, Now You See Me proves to be more frazzle than dazzle. When all the magic dust settles and the tricks are tediously explained, what you’re left with is a claustrophobically self-important caper film that is enormously pleased with its own cleverness.
At the core of the story are four street magicians who get instantly famous when their debut show in Vegas involves them performing on stage while seemingly robbing a bank in Paris at exactly the same time. (The climax of the act involves them blizzarding the audience with a fortune in Euros.) This brings them to the attention of the FBI, in the person of a dogged but none too bright agent named Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo). And we know that Dylan ain’t so smart because not only does one of the magicians (Jesse Eisenberg) make a monkey of him in the interrogation room, but a famous “magician debunker” (Morgan Freeman) keeps telling Dylan that he is forever falling for the quartet’s misdirection and is thereby always two steps behind them.
After Vegas the magicians perform in New Orleans, and pull off an even more audacious stunt that cements their reputation as Robin Hood-style outlaws. These tricksters are building up to a third and final performance in New York City, notwithstanding the fact that the FBI, various cops, and even Interpol are pursuing them like bloodhounds. This time there is half a billion dollars at stake, and director Louis Leterrier (Transporter, Clash of the Titans) orchestrates a bunch of hocus pocus in the form of fights, chases, a sneaky heist, and a climactic outdoor performance where an awestruck crowd gets a cyber lightshow with a surprising payoff.
Although the movie offers entertaining moments along the way, the characters aren’t interesting or even likable and the tricks, once explained, fail to satisfy. And the “big reveal” at the end makes the whole story seem preposterous. In short, the less-than-magical Now is all top hat and no rabbit. Call it an exercise in flabracadabra. M