NOW YOU SEE ME Movie Review: A Good Trick, Even With CGI
It should be a law that any movie about magicians shouldn't have any CGI for the trick scenes, but otherwise, Now You See Me is an enjoyable blend of The Prestige and Ocean's Eleven, balancing the crafty showmanship and the (very) occasional "How'd they do that?" gee whiz appeal with a complicated three-part heist story. After a lengthy prologue where our heroes are assembled, we flash forward a year later, where they have secured a big Vegas show with a fun hook - they're going to rob a bank. "Randomly" selecting someone from the crowd, they teleport him to his own bank (in France!) where he proceeds to help all of its money find itself into an air duct that blows it all over the Vegas crowd. It's magicians as Robin Hood, essentially, but you can't just rob a bank without being noticed, and thus it doesn't take long for Mark Ruffalo (as an FBI agent) and Melanie Laurent (Interpol) to show up and demand answers before they do it again.
You see, the "Four Horsemen" (Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Isla Fisher, and Dave Franco) have a pretty good defense - to be arrested for the bank robbery, which occurred while they were plainly visible on a Vegas stage, the police would have to essentially be admitting that they believe in magic, so they have little choice but to let them go and hope to figure out how they did it on their next attempt. But the cops aren't the only ones on their tail; Morgan Freeman shows up as Morgan Freeman, this time working as a guy who makes his living debunking magicians and exposing how they perform their tricks (it's the rare film to cast Freeman as, essentially, a dick), and thus seems to be aiding Ruffalo and his team. Add in Michael Caine as the team's mysterious bankroller and Common as Ruffalo's superior and you have a slightly over populated, but enjoyably breezy mystery, where the movie boils down to two big questions: what is the Horsemen's ultimate plan, and who was the mysterious hooded stranger that assembled them in the first place?
Honestly, I didn't care much about the first question, and, seemingly, neither did director Louis Leterrier or the numerous screenwriters. The first two heists/magic shows are terrific setpieces (particularly the New Orleans-set second one, where Ruffalo finds himself tackled by various hypnotized crowd members who believe him to be a the quarterback for the opposing football team), but the 3rd is a giant shrug (and ultimately comes down to a trick they don't even bother TRYING to explain how it could be done - the "exploding into money" thing you see on the trailers). The movie is just under two hours, and most of the final reel is devoted to explaining everything and pulling out its final twists, none of which involve the action (or even the comedy) that the trailers have focused on. Summit is routinely awful with their marketing, and while I get the approach now that I've seen the movie, I can't help but think folks will be a bit disappointed that there isn't as much action as the spots would have you believe.
See, despite the ads playing up Eisenberg and his fellow Horsemen, 2/3s of the movie actually focuses on Ruffalo and Laurent, who have their own banter but it pales in comparison with the glory of watching Eisenberg and Harrelson play off each other (maybe they figured we got enough of it in Zombieland?). You'd think showcasing Ruffalo - who was a highlight of last year's biggest grossing movie - would be a smart move for a marketing team, but in a way it was a nice surprise to see how much screentime his character had. And he's clearly having a good time, and thus I followed suit, though I do think the movie faltered some by not giving the Horsemen enough of their own moments. After the prologue, Fisher doesn't have a single scene to herself, and Eisenberg and Harrelson only get the spotlight during the fun interrogation sequence after their initial arrest (where Franco and Fisher don't appear at all, for some reason). Franco gets to appear in his own spinoff short film at one point, engaging in a lengthy fight with Ruffalo (and the great Michael Kelly as another agent) before escaping and leading everyone on a pretty nifty car chase, but otherwise the movie bizarrely refuses to give its ostensible stars a real moment to shine as individuals. Even the Ocean's films managed to give everyone a big moment during the heist sequences, but apart from Harrelson's ability to read minds, I never quite figured out what anyone was specifically bringing to the table (though Franco seems to be the only one of the four that can pick a lock, bizarrely enough).
Caine also seems to get short thrift; his character is essentially removed from the movie at the halfway point, and I have to wonder if rewrites (this script has been around since at least 2009) are to blame for his character's reduced importance, or if the character was never meant to be played by someone as significant as Michael Caine. I also have to believe that Elias Koteas was originally hired for a more substantial role than (spoiler, I guess?) a photo in a newspaper. Again, it's not exactly a brief movie, but some elements definitely felt reduced; expect a lot of "this was cut for pacing" deleted scenes on the Blu-ray. It's hard not to think of Ocean's, which is a shame because even though the movie is enjoyable and crowd-pleasing, it never feels as tight as that film, and it continually misses opportunities to let the cast play off each other (I don't think Freeman ever even meets Eisenberg and the others, and Laurent never gets to interact in any meaningful way with anyone besides Ruffalo). The ending seems to suggest further adventures, but hopefully if there's a Now You Don't they un-complicate the plot a bit and give the cast more time to focus on the real magic - the actors just busting each others' balls.
But it's fun, and that seems to be the main goal here. I think they would have been better off releasing it around Thanksgiving, where it could be counter-programming to all the awards-bait fare (as the first two Ocean's were, as well as the similarly action-lite/comedic National Treasure films), rather than stack it up against the big summer action movies Leterrier is usually known for, but hopefully it'll find its audience anyway - I'd like to see all these folks on another adventure now that all the groundwork has been laid out. After all, The Fast & The Furious was pretty small fry when it was released in 2001, playing against movies like Pearl Harbor and Tomb Raider, and look where it's at now. Nice to see another movie start a bit smaller so that there's room to grow later.