Movie Review: Now You See Me (2013)

I like magic, but maybe not the magic you're thinking of. There are really two kinds, you see. There's the theatrical, persona-driven stuff everyone knows and derides, David Blaine, Criss Angel, David Copperfield. These guys want you to believe in them. That's their whole hook. They want you walking away thinking they just might have real magical powers. But there's another kind of magic act, growing in popularity and relevance, where the performers are honest, up front. They tell you it's a trick and then dare you to figure out how they did it.

"Now You See Me" is a film that thinks it's the latter, but is, instead, the epitome of the former.

A quick run-down: Four street magicians, all skilled in their own particular variety of magic act, are all drawn to the same apartment where... something happens. Cut to a year later, they're headlining the Aria in Las Vegas, together, performing in front of a sold out crowd... for their first show? I'll be honest, I'm not entirely clear on what could have actually gone down over that last year, but the movie isn't the least bit interested so it's best to just move on. The center piece of their performance is a magical bank-heist, the fallout of which lands them on the radar of an incompetent FBI and one lone, French, gorgeous female red herring, I mean, Interpol agent. They dick around back and forth, there are twists, and ninety minutes later the movie's over and you get to move on with your life like it never happened.

It's all very competently put together, of course. The actors, even though they all seem to realize how ridiculous their roles are, Jesse Eisenberg's irredeemably smug "leader" of the magician gang in particular, earn their paychecks, and the visual effects aren't bad, one completely unnecessary CGI tarp flourishing not withstanding. There's a standout action sequence in there towards the end of the second act that actually manages to be exciting. But under all that, you find a particularly soulless, and above all else mindless endeavor.

This movie isn't interested in magic. Lip service "explanation sequences" are forced into the narrative, as if to assure us, the viewer, that everything we see will be above board, but these are completely undercut by literally impossible tricks that go unexplained, achieved only through the magic of visual effects. The planning of the "heist" scenes relies on such specific details that they'd rely on borderline precognition to be possible. And then there's the final twist, a stupid, literally impossible turn that's supposed to make us reevaluate the entire picture, but instead isn't even a surprise, made predictable by its sheer stupidity, which as you watch, you realize fits perfectly into the film as a whole, a tapestry of stupidity.

So it sounds like we're gonna get another one of these, which I simply can't understand. There's not one likable character in the movie, and it's not as if that's the point of the film, like Killer Joe or anything else with brains. It's hard to even say there's a protagonist, taking a step back and looking at the film as a whole. It's simply a string of impossible sight gags, without any investment in the outcomes, that wraps itself in something that should endeavor to make their ridiculous antics more believable, but instead simply make them more absurd.

"Now You See Me" isn't a terrible movie, but it's close. It aims low, and it hits even lower, serving only to divert your attention for a few mindless hours. Anyone with a real interest in magic, in particular the more modern, educational variety practiced by the likes of Penn and Teller or James Randi (Who is the obvious basis for Morgan Freeman's character, a fact which should make obvious, without seeing the film, how misguided that casting decision was.) will probably find the stupidity overwhelming and kill it after about twenty minutes. I would blame no one.