“Do you feel exploited or did you have a tiny bit of fun?”
The line above, spoken by actress Melanie Laurent to her co-star and on-screen law enforcer partner Mark Ruffalo sums up the M.O. of the deliriously fun, if admittedly quite silly, magical heist romp Now You See Me. Nothing that happens in the film ever really makes a logical lick of sense, but it’s of little importance. Louis Leterrier (The Incredible Hulk, The Transporter) has made a film about the true magic of cinema. If delivered in a smart enough tone, there’s nothing too silly to run with as an idea. Magicians banding together for a long con Ocean’s Eleven style? Why not? Just make sure it’s as entertaining as this one and make sure the audience doesn’t catch on to the illusion that nothing they are seeing holds up under even relaxed scrutiny.
Four magicians – a street savvy sleight of hand man (Jesse Eisenberg), a mentalist (Woody Harrelson), a pickpocket (Dave Franco), and an escape artist (Isla Fisher) – are brought together via a mysterious invitation to form a magic collective known as The Four Horsemen. They set up a trio of increasingly high stakes robberies using their collective talents, while an FBI agent (Ruffalo), a member of Interpol (Laurent), and a magician debunker (Morgan Freeman) try to figure out the crew’s ultimate end game.
This is the kind of film that knows the audience will be paying attention to the magic and the theatricality of what’s going on without dwelling too heavily on the plot. The film is actively trying to ask you to believe in magic, and for the most part aside from an occasional mean streak (jokes at the expense of the overweight and homosexual), there isn’t any cynicism in the construction of this goofy fable. It’s a film that features holographic schematics, elaborate hoaxes that could never, ever happen, and a ludicrous car chase featuring one of the greatest fake moustache distractions of all time.
Now You See Me is a 70s European crime thriller with 80s American logic and millennial slickness and it’s an intoxicating thing to behold if you’re willing to go along with the ride. Leterrier brings a sheen and breakneck pace to match that nearly masks the numerous plot holes that never get doubled back over. The cast also brings a considerable amount of manic energy to their roles, each cast perfectly like members of a team. Eisenberg is doing his usual analytical motormouth routine, but with some added arrogance to it. Harrelson makes for a credible mindreader. Fisher kind of gets the short end of the stick, seemingly only there because she’s a girl, but Laurent fares better on the other side of the law. Franco similarly doesn’t do much, but he does get an excellent fight sequence alongside Ruffalo that nearly steals the show. Freeman brings a kind of smug charm to his know-it-all, and Michael Caine pops up as a casino owner and potential mark for The Horsemen.
But the movie can be summed up possibly best through an analysis of Ruffalo’s performance, which is funnily enough up there with the best in his career. His detective is so outwardly gruff and over the top he approaches Nicolas Cage or Michael Shannon levels of lunacy. It’s all in service of a big, fun, dumb summer blockbuster. If you are thinking of seeing a movie about magical heists being pulled off on incredibly gullible people, you are going to get exactly that and done in the best way possible.
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