Imagine Ocean’s Eleven crossed with Harry Potter, bake for over two hours and then sprinkle with a Christopher Nolan’s The Prestige. Ladies and gentlemen, you have got the recipe for a film Now You See Me wishes it were.
Jessie Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Isla Fisher and David Franco are four magicians/mentalists who perform sell-out shows under the banner, The Four Horseman. When they manage to rob a bank in Paris, whilst they’re performing in Vegas, Mark Ruffalo’s crumpled shirt of a detective and Melanie Laurent’s Interpol agent – whose backstory seems to be simply that she’s French and wants to sleep with Ruffalo – try to build up enough evidence to put them away. Helping them out is Morgan Freeman’s ex-magician who makes a living exposing other’s tricks.
The character’s probably have names, but what does matter? Now You See Me is a film that makes no sense. First and foremost, it can’t decide whether it’s grounded in reality or, like Alan Moore’s Watchmen, its in-universe took a little step to the left to ours. Whilst Morgan Freeman diligently takes apart The Four Horseman’s tricks and lays them out for the benefit of Ruffalo and Laurent, the movie throws up images of Isla Fisher floating in a bubble across a theatre or magicking a flock of CGI sheets to dance around a stage. Eisenberg, in probably his most irritating role to date, regularly informs us, the viewer, that magic is all about deception. There’s not enough deception in the word to make us believe that Fisher can turn a rabbit into a hat without the aid of something more substantial than Paul Daniel’s magic set. So, are we to assume that this all some sort of allegory? Whilst the cynics chop down the forest of belief, there’s still a few acorns filled with real mysticism? If that’s true, how did the Four Horseman get their powers? Maybe it’s from their mysterious benefactor? Maybe. We’re never told. Upon the reveal of Mr Moneybags, the film may as well have let Harrelson turn to the camera and said, ‘Because. That’s why. Fuck you.’ Admittedly, a sequel has been greenlit, but we demand an explanation within the context of THIS film. Not a middle finger.
It’s revealed quite early on that the Four Horseman rob from the rich to give to the poor, but it never explains why they have to be so smug about it? If absolute power corrupts absolutely, then magic powers wins over absolute power every time. We shouldn’t be cheering on the police to capture them mid-performance. We really shouldn’t.
Now You See Me has a delightful cast, but characterisation is sketchy at best. A faux-love triangle between Harrelson, Fisher and Eisenberg is dead in the water, whilst Franco is the scotch mist of acting. Meanwhile, Freeman appear to be the bad guy because the script tells us he is. Okay, that’s slightly unfair, but when you measure up what happens to him against what he’s actually done to deserve it… It just seems a little bit, well, out of order. Michael Caine probably comes out on top seeing as his part is so small.
A misfire in all directions – the film’s score left us with a headache – Now You See Me fails to convince as family entertainment, a caper, a fantasy film or even a blue print of a good idea.