Now You See Me (2013)

(Video on Demand, September 2013) I really wished I liked this film more than I actually do.  After all, I’m a near-addict to the kind of fast-paced, slick commercial filmmaking that Now You See Me represents at its best, and I’m fond of thematic parallels between stage magic and thriller moviemaking.  The story of four skilled magicians involved in a revenge caper that they don’t entirely understand, Now You See Me is fun to watch and filled with interesting actors: Jesse Eisenberg is perfecting his alpha-nerd persona, Mark Ruffalo is fast settling as a dependable protagonist, while Woody Harrelson has some of the best lines in the movie as an arrogant hypnotist.  Having both Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman as supporting actors really doesn’t hurt.  (Too bad about Isla Fisher’s bland character, though.)  When it clicks, Now You See Me blends beat-perfect editing with skillful visuals and great audio material.  Director Louis Leterrier loves to move his camera around in order to make even the most ordinary moments seem exciting, and his action scenes are impressively choreographed.  So what’s the problem?  Well, essentially, a lack of restraint: The film often uses blatant CGI trickery in order to fake what are supposed to be real-time stage magic tricks, and in doing so basically blows away its own suspension of incredulity: When the smallest details are so obviously fake, it’s tough to be impressed by the film’s bigger magical set-pieces.  Now You See Me’s plot dynamics are also as overblown as to minimize the impact of its last narrative revelations: by the time the final sequence is supposed to blow our minds with an unexpected reversal, an excess of previous twists is bound to leave viewers’ reaction divided between “That makes no sense” and “Oh, whatever”.  The caper plot is also very unlikely, but that’s part of the charm of the sub-genre.  Despite its flaws, Now You See Me is an enjoyable piece of commercial filmmaking, and I even look forward to the announced sequel.

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