Now You See Me is a breezy, if intricate caper flick built around four masters of various forms of magic: sleight-of-hand, mentalism and escapology. It has an amazing cast, some great illusions and kills a couple of hours quickly and painlessly. Pretty much the definition of a fun summer movie.
We meet sleight of hand artist J. Daniel Atlas (Jesse Eisenberg), mentalist Merritt McKinney (Woody Harrelson), escapologist Henley Reeves (Isla Fisher) and pickpocket/illusionist Jack Wilder (Dave Franco) individually in the opening sequence – each plying their specialty and then coming together through mysterious Tarot cards giving them day and time. What they find leads to a one year time jump and now…
They are headlining a special one-night gig in Las Vegas, as The Four Horsemen, in which they appear to rob a bank in Paris – which brings them to the attention of the FBI and Interpol. Rumpled (to put it mildly) FBI Agent Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo, making Columbo look like the model of sartorial splendor) is assigned to the case, much to his dismay – and saddled with a French Interpol agent, Alma Dray (Melanie Laurent), who is as well put together as he is not.
Add to the mix The Four Horsemen’s patron, Thomas Dressler (Michael Caine) and renowned magic debunker Thaddeus Bradley, and the stage is set.
The Horsemen are arrested after the Vegas show – the first of three they’ve announced – but have to be let go because there is no evidence that credibly links them to a bank robbery that happened in France at the exact time they were on stage. After their release, Rhodes is approached by Bradley, who informs him that he is way behind the four because he’s not seeing the bigger picture.
From this point on, the film would seem to be a battle of wits between the four and the two cops – who appear, at first, to be unarmed. Dray, though, turns out to be as smart and intuitive as she is gorgeous – while Bradley’s efforts to expose the four are met with some resistance (at first) by Dressler.
When motivations become clear and conclusions are made, everything fits. Plus, it’s just fun to see how the illusions are done.
The screenplay, by Ed Solomon (Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure, Men In Black), Boaz Yakin (Fresh, Safe) and Edward Ricourt, is a bit of a maze but if you attention you have a fair chance of keeping up without too much difficulty. Director Louis Leterrier (The Transporter 1 & 2, The Incredible Hulk) delivers a slick, fast-paced film that veers in some cool directions, features some great stunts (a fight between Rhodes and Wilder is awesome), some very cool illusions and one beautifully executed chase sequence.
Now You See Me is smart enough to keep you intrigued and entertained, but ephemeral enough that you won’t feel a need to dissect it afterward. It’s like when you go to a fair – you hit a few rides, have a corn dog on a tick, some of those little donuts and some cotton candy. The movie is the cotton candy: it tastes great, is full of empty calories and, when it’s gone, it doesn’t linger – but it was great in that moment that you were experiencing it.
This is some great cotton candy.
Final Grade: A-