The entire premise of Now You See Me is based on what one of its characters calls "targeted deception" : making sure that what's really at stake is not what your eye is drawn towards. And since there's intrinsically nothing at stake in this adept demonstration of filmic sleight of hand, director Louis Leterrier's job is to keep the viewer interested and entertained in what is one rolling, continuous MacGuffin until the end credits roll. There are worse ways to spend two hours than watching Now You See Me, to be sure, but there's also the sense at the end that you've just witnessed a glitzy, high-tech Vegas magic show as fizzy as it is disposable. In the olden days, this could have been a Rat Pack movie; since nowadays there's no more Rat Pack, Mr. Leterrier's handpicked cast is a good next best thing, even though everyone is pretty much punching beneath his weight here.
Produced by J. J. Abrams acolytes Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman from a script co-written by Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure and Men in Black's Ed Solomon, Now You See Me is a twist on the classic heist movie. The "thieves" are a newly-grouped quartet of magicians formed by Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Isla Fisher and Dave Franco, backed by millionaire Michael Caine, and the cops chasing them are FBI agent Mark Ruffalo, Interpol agent Mélanie Laurent and professional magic debunker Morgan Freeman. The action starts with the "Four Horsemen" apparently stealing three million euros from a Parisian bank while still on stage at a Vegas casino, in the first of three extravagant shows that seem to follow some sort of mysterious pattern that the cops, always one step behind, struggle to comprehend. Of course, nothing is what it seems; that's a given in every movie involving magicians, as well as in every heist movie. But while the bigger picture behind the magic shows-cum-larceny seems to aim at correcting past wrongs in a devious (and finally pretty angular) way, ultimately there's not much behind the high-tech magic curtain.
The characters are never developed beyond a couple of one-dimensional traits matching the actors' public personas, and it's a credit to Ms. Laurent and Messrs. Eisenberg and Harrelson that they manage to flesh out engaging characters from such basic building blocks. Mr. Ruffalo has a harder time because of the specific arc of his cop part, and the fact that his Agent Rhodes seems to be such a curmudgeon where everyone else is finding things a breeze, while Ms. Fisher and Mr. Franco have little to no screen time and Messrs. Caine and Freeman are basically phoning it in professionally. And Mr. Leterrier seems to be so aware of his thin material that he ends up creating ever more elaborate, and targeted, deceptions, running the film at a busy, flowing tempo and making the most of the outlandish magic set pieces and photogenic locations he shoots in. He is clearly hoping for the viewer to focus on the fast-moving surface sheen while disregarding there's nothing much underneath. Which is perfectly fine, since at no point does Now You See Me pretend to be anything other than unpretentious, show-off entertainment, a disposable night out at the movies.
Cast: Jesse Eisenberg, Mark Ruffalo, Woody Harrelson, Mélanie Laurent, Isla Fisher, Dave Franco, Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman
Director: Louis Leterrier
Screenplay: Ed Solomon, Boaz Yakin, Edward Ricourt, from a story by Messrs. Yakin and Ricourt
Cinematography: Larry Fong, Mitchell Amundsen (colour, widescreen)
Music: Brian Tyler
Designer: Peter Wenham
Costumes: Jenny Eagan
Editors: Robert Leighton, Vincent Tabaillon
Producers: Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci, Bobby Cohen (Summit Entertainment, K/O Paper Products)
USA/Canada, 2013, 115 minutes
Screened: distributor advance press screening, Zon Lusomundo Alvaláxia 1, June 5th 2013