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Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Now You See Me



Now You See Me openly declares to the audience on the outset that it's out to bamboozle them, so in that regard, it plays fair. An entertaining and wildly implausible - sorry, I mean magical - heist movie about four magicians banded together to pull off incredible crimes, Now You See Me turns out to not really be about that at all. Which it told us on the outset, if we were paying attention. Look, a car chase! Pay attention! It's not what you think it is! (Stuff like that gets irritating after a while.)

We meet the Four Horsemen, as they come to be known. Jesse Eisenberg is their de facto leader, an arrogant, slick-talking illusionist. His former assistant Isla Fisher is a sexy escape artist. Mentalist Woody Harrelson, the disgraced senior member of the group. Finally, there's Dave Franco, an eager street grifter. Eisenberg makes a habit of condescending to Franco, and if you expected that to go somewhere, no, it's a feint. Fisher and Eisenberg clearly have the flash paper hots for each other, but did you expect her to pull his rabbit out of his hat? Nope, that's a feint. Maybe Fisher will end up succumbing to Harrelson's endless sexual innuendos. Hey, look over there! One of the Horsemen is seemingly killed in a car crash, but ha! Fooled you! The others made it seem like they believed their colleague was dead, but no, they knew it was a trick all along.

The Four Horsemen are mysteriously assembled from their piddling lives eking out a living dazzling rubes and agree to work for someone they've never met. A year later, they have the resources to stage the most elaborate magic show in Las Vegas; bigger than David Copperfield or Sigfried and Roy, plus everyone's straight. Their benefactor is corrupt multi-millionaire businessman Michael Caine, who, it turns out, is not the man who brought them together. Caine is more surprised than anyone he's just another mark. During their Vegas performance, the Horsemen somehow rob a bank in France. Or did they? Yes. But how? Ah, you see, that would be telling. Now You See Me does tell us how, and the answer would leave even the Ocean's Eleven crew scratching their heads. The heists and escape that follow, in New Orleans, and New York, become even more hard to swallow. But it's magic.

Mark Ruffalo is the FBI agent assigned to take down the Horsemen, who frustrate him at every turn with their parlor tricks, double talk, and ridiculous agility and fighting prowess. Fighting magicians is almost like fighting Spider-Man, according to Now You See Me. Ruffalo is assigned an unwanted partner from Interpol, the luminous Melanie Laurent, whose presence is a mystery, as is her interest in some sort of secret order of magic called The Eye of Horus. What exactly is she doing on this case? Finally, there is Morgan Freeman, a former famous illusionist himself, who wants to take down the Four Horsemen for his own reasons (money from debunking their act on DVD) and has ties to a legendary magician who died over 30 years ago. You are getting sleeeepy. Pay attention. Especially pay attention when Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman share the screen together, two master actors from The Dark Knight Trilogy reunited.

With all those balls in the air, Now You See Me mostly ignores the interesting characters it introduces in its first act, becoming way more involved in its ludicrous plot and then explaining how it pulled the wool over everyone's eyes. The Four Horsemen get shunted off to the background, turned into pawns, which apparently they were all along, as the movie focuses mainly on Ruffalo hunting them and bringing them to justice. But it was all a ruse! We, the audience, were being played from the beginning. Nothing, and no one, is as it seemed. All of Now You See Me, every absurd, impossible plot development and machination, was part of an elaborate scheme to get at Freeman, who was the real mark all along. The biggest reveal of all, that Ruffalo was the master illusionist behind everything from the very beginning, and everything we saw him do was a deception, feels like the biggest cheat. But then, Now You See Me told us so from the very beginning. So, tah dah! Thank you, you've been a beautiful audience.

Now You See Me should combine its sequel with the Magic Mike sequel: stripper magicians robbing banks.