Sometimes a film seems to have all the ingredients for success yet fails to take advantage and ends up a somewhat disappointing experience. With a terrific cast and a really interesting idea, Now You See Me seems like it should be a much better movie than it is. Heavily marketed with a slick trailer that fails to alert us about the plot shortfalls or lack of logic that permeates much of the story, the film presents as a star-studded cinematic thrill ride, but ultimately proves to be a flawed and somewhat underwhelming experience. The cast is impeccable – with Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine, Woody Harrelson, Mark Ruffalo, Jesse Eisenberg and the fabulous Melanie Laurent all featuring – and the premise behind the story has enormous potential, but a ridiculous ending and a lack of exposition of key events leaves too many questions unanswered.
The movie opens with four magicians – each of whom possesses a specific skill set – answering a mysterious summons to a vacant apartment. A year later, the foursome (Harrelson, Eisenberg, Isla Fisher and Dave Franco) are working for a mysterious benefactor performing a series of elaborately staged events, the nature of which attracts the attention of various law enforcement agencies. Detective Dylan Rhodes (Ruffalo) leads the investigation into the elaborate robberies that form the basis of each performance by the quartet, who now call themselves The Four Horsemen. Also taking an interest in the antics of The Four Horseman is former magician turned debunker Thaddeus Bradley (Freeman), who is at loggerheads with the magicians and the authorities. With French Interpol agent Alma Dray (Laurent) along for the ride, Rhodes pursues the group with an obsessive vigour that only serves to make the ending almost impossible to accept. This is an American movie after all, so obviously Laurent’s foreigner in the mix is cast as a possible conspirator as the police are foiled at every turn.
Much of the blame for the mess that this film becomes must lay with Director Louis Leterrier and his inability to identity the narrative flaws and make the necessary changes to ensure that the film makes sense. Leterrier, whose previous films include misfires such as The Incredible Hulk and Clash of the Titans, seems to have focussed on visual flair rather than story and characterisation as there are some impressive sequences in the film. Overall though, one can’t help but think about what the film could have been with a more skilled filmmaker at the helm. It really seems that Leterrier believes the dynamic nature of the various magic and action sequences – including an obligatory car chase – will mask the shortcomings that plague the film. In fact, had there been a more satisfying ending, other failings might easily be overlooked.
The performances are mostly fine, although Caine is under-utilised in the supporting role of banker Arthur Tressler. Eisenberg’s character shares the same stilted personality that the actor harnessed in his role as Mark Zuckerberg in The Social Network, while the usually reliable Ruffalo seems utterly perplexed throughout, perhaps asking himself how he got involved in this mess. Harrelson and Freeman are effortless in roles that don’t demand too much of them, with Laurent – who was so good in Inglourious Basterds – also making the best of her opportunities as the inexperienced Interpol agent whose credibility and capability are questioned at every turn by Rhodes and his cronies. There are some visual flourishes that salvage Now You See Me from being a total disaster, but it is just so hard to overlook the yawning gaps in logic that ultimately plague the film and leave you shaking your head in disbelief.