Sep 23, 2013

[Movies] Now You See Me (2013)

When I first saw the posters for Now You See Me, the natural impression the material generated was to compare it to movies like Ocean's Eleven and such. It was obviously designed to do precisely this, especially since the movie is more or less a heist / caper movie. The only real twist is that the thieves are magicians - but I'll get into the plot soon enough.

When you compare the two movies (and associated franchises), Eleven had a pretty stellar cast involved and the diverse personalities worked well together. In this movie, it's clear that they wanted to target a younger audience given the lead stars but they played it safe with some older actors as well to keep a wider audience range in mind or something.

The end result is a decent enough movie, but one that has the viewer constantly thinking about how things could have better or how to clean up the various plot holes and such. It's not necessarily bad, but it's also trying a little too hard.

Synopsis: Now You See Me is a 2013 caper movie directed by Louis Leterrier with a screenplay by Ed Solomon, Boaz Yakin, and Edward Ricourt. The movie has already been confirmed for a sequel.

The movie first introduces us to four different magicians - J. Daniel Atlas (Jesse Eisenberg), Henley Reeves (Isla Fisher), Jack Wilder (Dave Franco), and Merritt McKinney (Woody Harrelson). Unbeknown to them, each is observed by a mysterious figure in a hood who manages to slip each a tarot card with an invitation to a particular location. The four eventually make their way there and are presented with the plans for a phenomenal show - one that requires four magicians in order to get it to work.

A year later we meet The Four Horsemen, who have become rather famous for their amazing magic performances. In a large show in Las Vegas, the four claim to have a phenomenal trick in mind - to steal a bank at random. A member of the audience reveals the name of his bank and he is magically teleported to that bank's vault. And by activating a magical air duct, the money in the vault is sucked out and showered over the Las Vegas audience. However the money is really missing from the bank and this brings FBI agent Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo) into the story to investigate the theft. He is assisted by Alma Dray (Mélanie Laurent), an agent from Interpol. Another key character is Thaddeus Bradley (Morgan Freeman), who is a former magician who a reality TV host who reveals the secrets behind the tricks of various magicians.

On the surface the movie seems fun enough given how it tries to celebrate magic and tie in how magic can be used to commit crimes. At the end of the day, a lot of magic relies on the same skills and principles that we see in typical con men with their scams and tricks. Thus on that level alone the story sounds promising enough. But sadly stories do not necessarily dictate how the movie will go - it all lies in the execution.

First issue - CGI magic. While I know the actors themselves are not exactly skilled in art of deception that is stage magic, at no point do I actually believe that they are truly magicians as characters. It totally doesn't help that the various magic tricks predominantly relied on CGI - then again most of the movie also relies on CGI to save on exterior shots. Instead they relied a lot on CGI recreations of the city skylines of places like Las Vegas and whatnot. Boo that.

Second, the magicians themselves lacked any true character. The actors with the most screen time are probably Ruffalo and Freeman. Otherwise we only see snippets of the Four Horsemen, thus we don't really get to know them as characters. They're practically props themselves and I don't really see them having the necessary charisma or stage presence to be effective as entertainers. And the Interpol agent was equally without character. I know they tried to flesh her out with her willingness to somewhat believe in magic in order to solve the case, but this angle was never truly pursued or developed in a serious way.

The various tricks were interesting enough, I suppose, provided you forget the fact that they're executed in a manner that appears woefully fake. There's a complex enough plan there and how it all connects together makes for a number of cool sequences either depicting their tricks or their escape. Let's try to forgive the fact that more often than not, the Four Horsemen just run away from each scene instead of having a calm, casual departure that would draw less attention than running across the city.

The movie can only really be taken as light entertainment fare. Shut down your brain, ignore the ridiculous plot holes and shallow characterization and just enjoy the CGI ride. And given the movie has a sequel, we know that this is going to go on for a bit longer as long as people are willing to shell out for it.

Now You See Me is okay and just that. It's not super bad but it's nothing great but at at times I can't help but wonder if the magical element to things was really necessary for the story as a whole. Still, the movie at least rates 3 mentalist tricks that are just way too much out of a possible 5.

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