“The more you look, the less you see”
Regular readers will know I have a penchant, no a passion for the world of magic and illusion, not least through my reviews of The Prestige and The Illusionist. The Prestige features in a largish cameo Michael Caine, who also has a decent cameo in Now You See Me, a big budget movie directed by Louis Leterrier that purports to contain an analysis of magic.
Alas, I must report that in fact Now You See Me is in fact a load of old cobblers, not fit to lick the boots of the previously mentioned movies, and is evidence that Mr Caine and Morgan Freeman, both of whom do a sterling job in view of the material, have both compromised their integrity for the sake of a good pay day. Where The Prestige and The Illusionist are beautifully crafted movies, both in their own way paying homage to the art of illusion, Now You See Me is essentially an action caper heist movie populated by paper-thin characterisation, many CGI effects (the modern substitute for good content and real illusion), a plot and twist that are beyond the realms of credibility, and faux-mystique that at no point stands up to scrutiny.
Having mentioned Caine and Freeman, it’s worth saying that all the cast have worked hard to look the part. Jesse Eisenberg, previously the fast-talking, morally vacuous Mark Zuckerberg in The Social Network, is now the fast-talking, morally vacuous J Daniel Atlas, card fiend, illusionist and mega ego (“The Lovers.”) Dave Franco is sleight-of-hand guru Jack Wilder (“Death.”) Isla Fisher is Atlas’s one-time assistant and now escapologist Henley Reeves (“The High Priestess.”) And Woody Harrelson, arguably the senior and most accomplished actor of the four, is pork pie hat-wearing mentalist Merritt McKinley (“The Hermit.”) The four are drawn together, apparently by Caine’s Arthur Tressler, to become “The Four Horsemen” and perform high-value magic shows to big audiences, each of which seems to end with a major league heist and giving carefully selected audiences large sums of money.
On the other side of the magical fence are Mark Ruffalo‘s unfeasibly thick FBI agent Dylan Rhodes and, if only to appear different and to incorporate the delectable French actress Mélanie Laurent, is delectable French Interpol agent Alma Dray. A touch of dubious irony included near the end by asking just why an Interpol officer is Rhodes’s sidekick, fails miserably because it fails to answer its own question.
It’s really not worth explaining the plot any further, even without spoilers, since it essentially cheats the audience and, ultimately, itself. Along the way there is the car chase (de rigueur) and a range of poorly-explained stunts, cheesy dialogue and laughable twists that exist only because the formula says a twist is required. There is nothing truly original or daring about this enterprise because nothing rings true, and that’s the bottom line the makers of this movie should take to heart.
As I say, the cast are blameless – they do their best, but ultimately it is the Leterrier’s glossy but empty direction and a lumpen Solomon/Yakin/Ricourt script, which does at least include the odd quotable one-liner, that let them down. Nothing is truly resolved at any stage in the plot – cause and effect are completely lost in the melee, which to my mind spells a breakdown of any last tenuous hold on audience involvement. The script doesn’t help any in this respect, simply attempting to paper over the gaping holes in plot and credibility, and failing miserably. No doubt a sequel will be along soon to apply Polyfilla to some of those gaps, but you can’t help but think this is more marketing tricks and formulas from the Hollywood Studio system, at the expense of integrity.
It did good business at the box office, which proves that there is a vast audience which wants action, mega casts and special effects but doesn’t give a toss about anything else. I weep for our generation. Magic ain’t what it used to be… and the more you look, the more you wish you hadn’t bothered.