By Alec Julian
Sure, there are reasons to dislike “Now You See Me.” Humorless hipster Village Voice sharks will gnaw on this for a little while, trying to say that “Ocean’s 13” and “The Prestige” are much better movies, while audiences, well, will at least kind of like this movie, and may, just may, elect it to be the It Film of Summer ’13, for lack of a more interesting alternative. Who cares? It’s easy to whine about any mainstream movie, especially during the stereotypically mindless spring and summer months.
Since the studio’s inexorably preparing a sequel probably called “Now You Don’t,” I won’t complain that the four heroes are rather flat and undeveloped, as we expect to see growth over the course of this franchise (read: “Four Horseman” Saga).
Woody Harrelson is an old-fashioned mentalist who combs your presentation – speech patterns, eye movements, and tics – to dig up dirty secrets to extort you with. Jesse Eisenberg plays the Mark Zuckerberg of magic – controlling and cocky – except he’s stealing money, not computer code, which strangely makes you notice just how handsome he is.
His former assistant, Henley, played by Isla Fisher (Myrtle in “The Great Gatsby”) doesn’t have enough lines, nor does she even appear enough to be patently objectified. Then there’s a street magician-cum-pickpocket, played by James Franco’s younger brother Dave, who looks like his famous sibling, perpetually wears an impish grin, and speaks in a thickened version of James’ unique New York City twang – a dime-store shade of a movie star.
These entertainers are summoned by an unknown entity and a year later they’re jet-setting and selling out shows in Vegas. We never find out how this happened. We assume Michael Caine had something to do with it since he’s the mogul who seems to be financing them.
In the scene from the trailer, the gang teleports an audience member at a show to his Paris bank’s vault where a mountain of cash is suctioned into the ceiling and transported into the Vegas auditorium.
That’s not exactly kosher.
Enter Mark Ruffalo, a painfully hackneyed character – the crotchety, old school, BlackBerry toting klutz leading the clomping criminal investigation – and his Interpol counterpart, a patient, French romantic played by Mélanie Laurent (“Inglorious Basterds,” “Beginners”) and Morgan Freeman, an ex-magician who’s made most of his money debunking other magicians’ tricks for his popular straight to video series. Mention “House of Cards’” sober henchman Doug Stamper played by Michael Kelly as funny fodder for our overmatched illusionists. Rapper-actor Common is in this for two minutes.
The cops are desperately trying to unravel the method behind the magic.
The movie hopes not because then you might get annoyed by the inevitably unrealistic conventions of a heist film that involves magicians; or aggravated by the criminal overuse of close ups (though that may be motivated by the movie’s leitmotif – “the closer you look, the less you’ll see”). A jaded observer would call this movie “Gimmick.”
The “Ocean’s” movies may seem more sophisticated, “Ocean’s 11” impressed us with a bevy of idiosyncratic fairly developed conmen, utilizing Clooney’s voice over, something hardly employed in this movie. And sure, some of those Ocean’s guys are bigger stars. For the most part, however, “Now You See Me” is just as fun, preposterous, and dopey as that franchise.
Admittedly, the ending is a letdown – it’s silly and fantastic and hopefully the questions it raises will be resolved in the sequel – but it’s not a meltdown like “Ocean’s 12.”
Still, Soderbergh’s potboilers are smoother because “Now You See Me” dedicates too much time to the uncool Mark Ruffalo and prosaic action sequences, leaving us unsure if what we just saw has more bad moments than good.
(“NYSM” is rated PG-13 for language, some action and sexual content; it makes use of its single f-word brilliantly.)
(“Ocean’s Eleven,” “Ocean’s Twelve,” and “Ocean’s Thirteen” are rated PG-13 for brief sensuality, sexual content, and language.)