CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: NOW YOU SEE ME (2013)
By Michael Arruda
L.L. SOARES: And now for my next trick. I ‘ll pull a rabbit out of my hat.
(Reaches into top hat and pulls out a roaring lion.)
MICHAEL ARRUDA: That’s not a rabbit.
LS: Oops, I must have grabbed the wrong hat.
MA: Thanks, Bullwinkle. For my next trick, I shall make LL disappear. (Aims magic wand at LS. There’s a puff of smoke, and suddenly LS has vanished.) (The crowd gasps in wonder.)
Where did he go, you ask?
Who cares! (Laughs maniacally).
Seriously, though, I’m reviewing today’s movie NOW YOU SEE ME (2013) solo, so L.L. can enjoy his day off, wherever he is in magic land. Rest assured, he’ll be back again soon.
Today’s movie, NOW YOU SEE ME, is a high octane tale of a group of magicians who rob banks and then give the money to their audience. Needless to say, they’re very popular. They’re also wanted by the authorities.
The movie opens with quick introductions of the four principal characters. There’s J. Daniel Atlas (Jesse Eisenberg) a magician who specializes in card tricks and illusions, Merritt McKinney (Woody Harrelson), a mentalist who can read people’s minds—he used to be famous but now is reduced to using his ability to con people out of money—, there’s Henley Reeves (Isla Fisher), Atlas’s former assistant and girlfriend, who now performs on her own, and finally there’s Jack Wilder (Dave Franco) who uses his sleight of hand talent to steal people’s wallets.
These four folks each receive a mysterious invitation which brings them together at an abandoned apartment where they receive instructions that we the audience are not privy to. The next time we see them they are known as The Four Horsemen and they are performing on a huge Las Vegas stage, financed by billionaire Arthur Tressler (Michael Caine). It is on this stage where they pull off their first infamous stunt, robbing a Paris bank and showering the audience with the money.
The Four Horsemen are quickly arrested, but lead FBI investigator Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo) can find no evidence against them, as their crime seems to have been pulled off by magic. He is forced to let them go, which really irks him since they make a complete fool out of him in the interrogation room. Frustrated, Rhodes makes it his mission to bring the Four Horsemen to justice. He is aided by a beautiful French Interpol agent Alma Dray (Melanie Laurent) and his right hand man Agent Fuller (Michael Kelly.).
They also turn to Thaddeus Bradley (Morgan Freeman), an expert in debunking magician’s tricks, but Thaddeus is more interested in his own personal gain and isn’t all that keen on sharing information with the FBI and Interpol. To make matters more difficult for both FBI Agent Rhodes and Thaddeus is that the four magicians are protected by the deep pockets of their benefactor, Arthur Tressler, until Tressler becomes a victim himself, and then all bets are off, as everyone wants a piece of the Four Horsemen.
(A BEAUTIFUL WOMAN walks onto stage and approaches MA).
WOMAN: I’m here to be sawed in half.
MA: Of course you are! Man, I wish I were a magician right now.
WOMAN: You’re not a magician?
MA: I’m afraid not. I’m just here to review a movie.
WOMAN: I was really looking forward to getting sawed in half.
MA: Well, I don’t have a saw, but I’ve got some pretty sharp teeth! (smiles). Why don’t you help me review the movie instead?
WOMAN: I’d rather get sawed in half. (Exits).
MA: I should have become a magician. Oh well.
Back to the movie.
I had mixed feelings about NOW YOU SEE ME. It actually sounds better than it is, and yet, with its frenetic style I couldn’t help but like it. It’s entertaining fluff, but it could have been better. It could have benefitted from some hard hitting realism that could have turned it into an edgy thriller.
The cast is second to none and is certainly one of the highlights of this movie. Jesse Eisenberg is his usual wise-cracking intellectual self as J. Daniel Atlas, and he’s sort of the leader of the four magicians. Woody Harrelson as mentalist Merritt McKinney was my favorite of the four, and I could have watched an entire movie based on his character alone.
Isla Fisher is fine as Henley Reeves, although her character is less interesting than Eisenberg’s and Harrelson’s. We just saw Fisher as Myrtle Wilson in THE GREAT GATSBY (2013), and her role here is larger, and as a result she’s more memorable.
Dave Franco is also very good as Jack Wilder, and yes, Dave is James Franco’s younger brother. We’ve seen Dave Franco a lot lately, in films like WARM BODIES (2013), 21 JUMP STREET (2012) and FRIGHT NIGHT (2011).
But one of the ways where NOW YOU SEE ME goes wrong is it doesn’t develop these four folks at all. It does a bang up job of introducing these characters, but as the film goes along we never really get to know them, and during the film’s second half they actually take a back seat to Mark Ruffalo’s FBI character Dylan Rhodes.
This in itself is not necessarily a bad thing. I like Mark Ruffalo a lot, and he actually delivers the best performance in the movie, as the guy who wants to nail these magicians so badly he can taste it. I had no problem with the Ruffalo storyline and wouldn’t change it at all. He’s one of the best parts of the movie.
(There is a huge crash and suddenly THE INCREDIBLE HULK stomps onto the stage.)
HULK: How come Hulk not in NOW YOU SEE ME?
MA: Because Mark Ruffalo played you in THE AVENGERS (2012), but that doesn’t mean he’s going to be you in every movie he makes. That would be typecasting.
HULK: Hulk will smash puny magicians!
MA: Well, maybe your next villain will be a magician.
HULK: Maybe Hulk’s next villain—will be you!
MA (laughs nervously) Hey, I hear Thor is backstage.
HULK: Thor??? (Exits by smashing through a wall behind MA.)
MA: That was easy.
HULK’s voice off-stage: You not Thor!
(There is a scream and a long haired man is tossed through the air from somewhere backstage.)
MA (to man as he crashes into the audience): Sorry about that. (calls backstage) Keep looking! Thor’s back there somewhere.
MA: Back to NOW YOU SEE ME.
The problem is the film doesn’t do with the four magicians what it does with Ruffalo—add some depth. One reason so little time is spent with the magicians is they don’t know who they’re working for. Sure, Michael Caine’s billionaire Arthur Tressler is financing them, but he’s not the guy who got them all together in the first place.
So, since they don’t know who they’re working for, (and I’m assuming they’re getting paid handsomely for their efforts) we never see them plotting, and we don’t know why they’re doing what they’re doing, because even they don’t know! The four magicians are in serious need of major character development.
In effect, this tale becomes very one-sided, with Ruffalo’s FBI agent dominating the proceedings as a law enforcement officer with a passion for justice, but the magicians are largely reduced to supporting players. They pull off their stunts and then they disappear. After the way they were first introduced in this movie, I expected more.
The supporting cast is excellent. Besides Ruffalo, my other favorite performance belongs to Melanie Laurent as Interpol agent Alma Dray. She’s exceedingly attractive, and she and Ruffalo share a nice chemistry. I also enjoyed Michael Kelly as Agent Fuller, as he shares his boss’s frustration over constantly being one step behind the magicians.
And of course, you can’t go wrong with Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine, and they’re excellent here, just as they were when they teamed up in the Christopher Nolan BATMAN movies.
It’s an A cast, and they really deliver.
So does director Louis Leterrier, who also directed CLASH OF THE TITANS (2010) and THE INCREDIBLE HULK (2008).
HULK’s voice: Thor? Yoo hoo. Where are you hiding?
MA: Here, Leterrier has directed a fast paced thriller with a lot of cool scenes including a pretty decent car chase. Sure, it’s all pretty lightweight, but it’s still fun.
I loved the spirited music score by Brian Tyler. It’s really a major part of this movie.
The screenplay by Ed Solomon, Boaz Yakin, and Edward Ricourt works best when dealing with the snappy dialogue between the magicians themselves and between them and FBI agent Rhodes. In terms of story, I liked the set up a lot, but as it goes along it lacks the necessary teeth to get the job done.
The reason we don’t know who the magicians are working for is because this revelation will serve as a plot twist late in the movie, which frankly, I could have done without. Who is the mysterious person who’s pulling all the strings? It’s not an answer I enjoyed, as it’s not a very realistic revelation, and it takes away from the plot.
The whole movie is not that realistic, and I guess I shouldn’t be all that surprised, since it’s a film about magicians. Still, if I can’t believe it, I can’t really buy into it. Some of the things we’re supposed to believe—like transporting a man from a Las Vegas stage to Paris so he can rob a bank—are pure fantasy. What is this? STAR TREK?
Now, they do show later on how they pulled this off, and obviously it’s not magic but there’s a lot that happens in this movie where I scratched my head and said, “Really?”
But that’s not to say NOW YOU SEE ME isn’t an entertaining movie. It is. I just would have liked it even more had I known more about the four main magicians, had I believed in some of the plot points more, and had the film had more of an edge to it. This one plays like a PG movie rather than a PG-13 flick.
But I had fun, and I was entertained for its nearly two hour running time. If you like Mark Ruffalo, you definitely will enjoy this movie. The same can be said if you’re a fan of Woody Harrelson and Jesse Eisenberg. As long as you’re not expecting anything too deep or hard hitting, you’ll find NOW YOU SEE ME a pleasurable way to spend two hours, especially inside a cool theater in the middle of a heat wave.
I give it three knives.
HULK’S voice: Puny Thor not back here! Little man tricked Hulk!
MA: That’s my cue.
For my final trick, I shall make myself disappear. (Snaps his fingers, and in a puff of smoke, MA vanishes.)
© Copyright 2013 by Michael Arruda
Michael Arruda gives NOW YOU SEE ME ~ three knives!