“Now You See Me” is like seeing a magician pull a rabbit out of a hat and then showing you how the trick is done, only to learn the bunny’s dead. Everything’s going reasonably well until the disappointing end.
The big trick of “Now You See Me” is the criminal ways of a group of illusionists – played by Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Isla Fisher and Dave Franco – brought together by a mysterious stranger to pull off a series of impossible crimes. Their first trick is to rob a bank in Paris without leaving the United States. The tricks get bigger and more baffling.
The authorities – particularly agents from the FBI (Mark Ruffalo) and Interpol (Milanie Laurent) – are not amused by how the thieves give all of the money to their audience. Each philanthropic crime makes the agents more determined to end the act.
Until the final scene, “Now You See Me” is a mildly interesting look at what happens when larceny meets illusion. Imagine David Copperfield becoming a member of the “Ocean’s Eleven” gang.
Director Louis Leterrier shows a deft hand when dealing with the stage presentations, but he doesn’t have equal ability staging the more emotional moments. Leterrier’s past work – such as “The Incredible Hulk” and “Clash of the Titans” – has shown the same weakness when it comes to personal drama.
It doesn’t help that his cast looks more like the legion of substitute actors rather than big stars.
Eisenberg doesn’t have the stage presence to pull off the masterful magician he’s supposed to be, while Fisher and Franco are just along for the ride. Neither has the acting talent to make the roles more than just supporting players.
The fourth member of this Robin Hoodish gang, a mentalist played by Harrelson, comes the closest to being a headliner.
Michael Caine’s role as the investor for the magicians doesn’t give him much to do. But Morgan Freeman gets the most out of playing an ex-magician who’s become a sensation by debunking the work of magicians.
It could be that while the screenplay by Ed Solomon, Boaz Yakin and Edward Ricourt comes with enough misdirection to make the illusions fun to watch, the movie falls apart in the end. Even one of the biggest clues is explained one way and then appears completely different at the conclusion.
And for a film that takes great pride early in pulling back the curtain to reveal the reality of the moment, the screenwriters take impossible leaps over gaping holes in the finale without apology.
The key to any good piece of entertainment is to be as entertaining at the end as in the beginning. “Now You See Me” is more like “Now You Don’t” when it comes to a big finish.