Dumb movies come in two varieties. There are the those films that know they have no interest in accurate depictions of the human condition and embrace it in favor of fun. And then there are movies like Now You See Me, which thinks it has something up it's sleeve when in fact it has toilet paper stuck to its shoe at all times. At one point in the film, Jesse Eisenberg's character tells someone the key to magic is always being the smartest person in the room. The film gives you opportunities to be that person at every moment.
Now You See Me has two main problems that work together to make the film mostly unlikable. One is a mystery "twist ending" type plot involving Mark Ruffalo's investigation of the Four Horsemen, a magic troupe who use their illusions to steal real money. The investigation is boring and leads to an unexpected and unwelcome love story between he and Inglourious Basterds' Mélanie Laurent. Ruffalo spends most of the film looking harried and frustrated because nearly every other character he talks to is smarter than him and makes absolutely sure he knows it.
This leads to Now You See Me's other big problem: Smug fucking magicians. I guess there's a reason magicians in popular culture have been relegated to the human joke table. Give them just a little bit of credibility and they all turn into Peter Parker in Spider-Man 3.
All the movie's magicians have this problem, but Jesse Eisenberg has it the worst (with a surprisingly awake Morgan Freeman supplying a close second). Eisenberg's a good actor but his schtick is absolutely grating. Most films either use his twerpy arrogance as an illustration of adolescent awkwardness (Zombieland, Adventureland, Landland: The Movie) or make his general aspergian condescendence part of the character's whole point (The Social Network, The Squid and the Whale, Rio (?)). Now You See Me, on the other hand, wants you to see him as a really cool guy, a Hudson Hawk, if you will. So while you're wondering why he doesn't get punched in the face by every other character in the film (Mark Ruffalo's in particular), the movie is like, "Hahaha! This guy is totally the Marty McFly of magic!"
Eisenberg's cohorts are at least silly enough to be likable. Even with a stupid hat, it's hard to hate Woody Harrelson. Isla Fisher, whose voice sounds more like Chucky from Rugrats the more I hear it, comes off well with the little she has to do. Dave Franco is nearly invisible in the film until his big showcase near the end during which he reveals himself as some kind of near-mute sleight of hand ninja warrior.
And when the film sticks with magic, it's actually a little fun. The group has a nice dynamic together, and it's just human nature to be curious about how magicians execute these seemingly impossible illusions and tricks. I can't speak to the veracity of the magic utilized in Now You See Me, but the trick explainations are intriguing and believable enough to feel satisfying.
It's also a little cool that all four members of the Four Horsemen represent different kinds of magicians. Isla Fisher is the escape artist. Woody Harrelson is the mentalist. Dave Franco is the lock picker/card thrower/pick pocket/ninja. And Jesse Eisenberg is the street level David Blaine card trick illusionist. They could have done so much with this almost Avengers-level set up.
But they don't. The amazing thing about Now You See Me is how little time it spends with the Four Horsemen in favor of Mark Ruffalo's character. This might be some accidental exaggeration, but even Morgan Freeman seems to have received more screentime.
Maybe that wasn't always the case. There are minor indicators throughout Now You See Me which point to a film reshaped somewhat in post production. Edits are rough and you occasionally get the feeling that narratively anticipated scenes have been cut out all together.
There are other strange production problems as well. The film's more thrilling sequences are scored to a campy spy theme so out of place it borders on parody. Louis Leterrier also goes big on J.J. Abrams-esque lens flares, but captures them so dead-on that on that I frequently found myself shielding my eyes from the blinding lights. In almost every way conceivable, this is not a well put together film.
In the end, Now You See Me isn't exactly awful, but it's certainly not exciting enough to justify the price of a ticket. You're probably better off watching something with Ricky Jay in it instead. But not Tomorrow Never Dies.