Saturday, February 8, 2014

Now You See Me (2013) [PG-13] ****

A film review by Scott Bowles, USA Today, May 31, 2013.

While hawking his latest film Now You See Me earlier this month, Morgan Freeman nodded off during a live television interview that became a viral sensation. Consider it Freeman's stab at mentalism, a telepathic warning about this clumsily-executed story of magicians with a penchant for bank robbery.

Boasting a terrific cast and a flimsy plot whose logic disappears faster than a rabbit in a hat, Now You See Me struggles to pull off its cinematic sleights of hand. Jesse Eisenberg plays J. Daniel Atlas, a David Blaine-styled stunt magician who leads a crew of devious prestidigitators through a series of bank heists that catch the attention of the FBI and Interpol. Joining the crew are mentalist Merritt McKinney (Woody Harrelson), escape artist Henley Reeves (Isla Fisher) and street magician Jack Wilder (Dave Franco). Soon the group, known as the Four Horsemen, is ripping off banks across the globe — and spreading the wealth among audiences like levitating Robin Hoods.

But the story, as directed by Louis Leterrier (Clash of the Titans), can't quite get off the ground. That's something of a surprise, given a cast that should be able to make any story defy gravity. In addition to the Horsemen, we meet Thaddeus Bradley (Freeman), a former magician turned TV host who pulls back the curtain on illusionists. The Horsemen are assembled and led by the wealthy and mysterious Arthur Tressler (Michael Caine), whose ultimate goal remains a mystery.

The crux of Now You See Me's woes is the illusions themselves. Magic is never easy on film — just ask the folks behind The Incredible Burt Wonderstone, the recent ill-fated Steve Carell story of magicians that made audiences disappear from theaters. Similar woes afflict Now You See Me, whose secrets are apparent: computer-generated effects and plot conventions. The mentalist can hypnotize over the phone; the mind-reader flashes your thoughts on building facades. Good magic is plausible; these tricks are too outlandish to make you ask how did they do that?

There are flashes of razzle-dazzle. Harrelson, in particular, gets laugh-out-loud lines, and Eisenberg seems to know real sleight of hand. But it's mostly smoke and mirrors. After Freeman's snooze became a YouTube fixture, the actor jokingly dismissed the nap, saying he was using Google eyelids to check his Facebook account. You may find yourself attempting the same feat, because Now You See Me has little up its sleeve. [Bowles' rating: ** out of 4]

Labels: crime, mystery, thriller

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