Saturday, June 8, 2013

Now You See Me

Non-franchise movies that are released during the summer movie season can be extremely hit-or-miss. Ah, who am I kidding? Any movie is like that. But with no baggage behind it an original feature can be a tough sell in this day and age. Audiences want the familiar. They want something safe. Personally I don’t think like that. I want more originality, less sequels (unless they belong to the Star Trek or Marvel franchises) and definitely want an end to all the remakes/reboots. When I saw the trailers for Now You See Me I was pretty excited. An original film that features a huge all-star cast? Sign me up!

A quartet of magicians, illusionists and mentalists calling themselves The Four Horsemen (Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Isla Fisher and Dave Franco) have rocked the entertainment world to the core with their apparent robbing of a bank while performing on stage. A dedicated FBI agent (Mark Ruffalo) and an Interpol officer (Mélanie Laurent) are assigned to find out how they did it and stop them before they can do it again.
This flick is entertaining and fun, but it suffers from a lack of follow through and proper character development, therefore I have to say it’s strictly middle of the road.

The movie starts out introducing us to the Four Horsemen and their individual talents. Jesse Eisenberg is a popular magician, Woody Harrelson is a mentalist, Isla Fisher is a successful illusionist in Vegas and Dave Franco is a street hustler. Outside of the prologue we know absolutely nothing about these people other than the fact that they want to be inducted into a secret society for magicians known as “The Eye”. The focus strangely stays on the dull law enforcement characters played by Mark Ruffalo and Mélanie Laurent, with frequent visits from a very welcome Morgan Freeman as a debunker of illusion, and stays there for the rest of the runtime. I don’t know about you, but the trailers made it look like the magicians were the main characters and I was extremely disappointed that they ended up being the co-stars.
Everyone gives a decent performance. The more I see the lovely Isla Fisher the more I like her. She is one of those actresses that makes her craft look effortless. Seeing the gorgeous Mélanie Laurent (Inglourious Basterds) once again was a real treat since I admire her work greatly. Jesse Eisenberg shows off a confidence I haven’t seen from him before while Woody Harrelson plays the same character he always does (a smart ass).  Dave Franco is just kind of there, but he has a pretty rad fight scene with Ruffalo involving throwing cards and blasts of flash paper. Ruffalo is operating on all cylinders, obviously trying to move himself as far away from Bruce Banner as humanly possible to avoid typecasting. Morgan Freeman is a blast as usual, giving what could have been a bland one-note part some much needed spark. Michael Caine is barely in the movie and doesn’t do much but act smarmy.

Writers Ed Solomon, Boaz Yakin and Edward Ricourt created a great teaser before the opening titles, setting up an interesting scenario and a bit of mystery. Their problem is that they didn’t come up with a satisfying conclusion and there are many, many unanswered questions left once the end credits roll. One development was ultra predictable (I won’t spoil it here) and the finale left me cold and cocking my head wondering what just happened. The final shot combined with a voiceover was confusing as well.
I have three major issues with the screenplay:
1) The writers had such a great first act where the audience is shown what it takes to pull off a successful illusion, and from that point on we barely get any more information on the subject. How did the bubble trick work? How exactly did they do that money transfer? Sure the final magic trick is explained, but the one featured in the second act is ignored completely. It baffled me in more ways than one.

2) Just what the fuck is “The Eye”, and why is it so damned important? We are given a miniscule introduction to the secret society via a voiceover, but that’s it. The Four Horsemen are willing to go to great lengths and face serious charges that may land them in jail for the rest of their lives to get into this magical illuminati, but why? What benefit is there? Will it wipe their slate clean? It is in another dimension? Is there room and board? What’s the meatloaf like? No answer is given, and therefore I call it a major plot hole.

3) Is there real magic being used or is it all illusion? The fact that the second performance by The Four Horsemen isn’t explained makes me think that some of what they do on stage is the former. Sure the characters are constantly saying “come in close, because the more you think you see the easier it will be to fool you”, but all I saw was cool special effects and people floating in the air in bubbles. If the writers came up with all these elaborate explanations as to how the other acts were pulled off, so why leave this one up in the air and make me think there are mystical forces at work? Lazy writing.
Director Louis Leterrier (Transporter 2, Unleashed, The Incredible Hulk, Clash of the Titans) toned down his usual frantic style for a more mainstream look, but some of his visual flourishes pop up now and then to remind you that this guy is a creative force in film. His massive sweeping shots over the stage in the opening act are almost dizzying (if the movie was in 3D I would expect to get a little woozy) and his wild chase scenes are magnificent. I fear that he left a little too much of the film on the cutting room floor, because I distinctly remember a number of shots that were in the trailers but were suspiciously absent here. For a movie that is nearly two hours long I felt that it was a little too short. Was there more material about the Horsemen or their second performance? Was this the reason their final performance was so anticlimactic? I don’t know, but I would have preferred that he left any and all material on these subjects in the final product.

Now You See Me could have been a great summer popcorn flick, but too many issues and inconsistencies rear their ugly heads to make it fully recommendable. While there is a lot to like, for example the performances and the stage acts, there is always something there acting as a counterbalance. For every positive there is an equal negative. It is fun and entertaining, but in the end the gaffs left me cold and indifferent. If there is a sequel (I doubt it) will it be called Now You Don’t?

2.5 out of 5

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