Last night I watched Louis Letterier’s Now You See Me, starring Jessse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Isla Fisher, and Dave Franco as the Four Horseman who are four magicians who rob banks and give the money back to the public a la Robin Hood, Mark Ruffalo and Melanie Laurent as FBI and Interpol agents, respectively, investigating the Horsemen’s robberies, Michael Caine as the magician’s monetary benefactor, and Morgan Freeman as a former magician who makes a living exposing the tricks of the trade and who is also simultaneously hunting the Hoursemen. Before I watched it last night, my friend perfectly described it as a fun movie that isn’t good. And that’s exactly what this movie is, a dumb, slick, fun, flashy, well-casted, entertaining movie that thinks it’s really clever (to its credit the premise is very clever) and smarter than the audience, when in reality it’s very dumb.
This movie has a lot of potential (again, the premise is very smart and unique) and the cast is great and everyone seems to have a great time making the film and there is a lot of promising scenes and character moments in the first act. The movie starts by introducing the four main magicians and how they interact with their particular audiences, what their skills/acts are, and who they are as people efficiently and entertainingly. They then receive mysterious invitations to meet in New York City where they are introduced to the idea of joining together to rob banks by an unknown person. They put on shows in Las Vegas, New Orleans, and New York where, in the shows, they appear to rob a Parisian bank, a company, and the third I’ll leave unspoiled. I enjoyed the shows and the magic on display. Louis Letterier makes the magic acts incredibly fun to watch and are full of flashy camera movements and lighting. It’s a bit overproduced at times, and by the third main magic act, the movie really starts to slog.
And that’s my biggest complaint about the movie. It becomes very sluggish by the third act and shifts its focus from the Four Horseman performing magic to the FBI investigating the shows. The movie is way too long and has Morgan Freeman explain how each heist works too many times. Plus there is a pointless romantic subplot that adds nothing to the character development or story. It is incredibly forced. And so much of the last half of the movie focuses on the investigation instead of the Horseman actually performing the heists or preparing. Hell there’s even a car chase that comes out of nowhere and the cause of it is ridiculously outlandish. The movie adds on so many of these twists and turns and sub plots that, like a magic trick, is misdirection from what is actually occurring. But what is actually occurring, the reasoning behind the magic, is not interesting and not deserving of such over the top misdirection.
These twists are essentially the same thing as the movie outright saying, “Hey audience! Bet you didn’t see any of this coming, right?!? Man, we are so clever! Hahaha! Gotcha!” It makes little to no sense as you watch everything unfold and particularly immediately during the credits when you start thinking about the movie and you just think, yep that was dumb.
And if it weren’t for a solid premise, a marvelous cast in which no one phoned in their performance, and some fun twisty set up, this movie would have been a total drag. The pacing is very poor, the writing was either good or bad, the direction was competent and stylish, and the acting was good. But I was entertained. I love heist movies and this film had a clever idea of how to mix high-end magic acts with heists. During the first heist, where they rob a bank in Paris, I was excited. I kept trying to figure out how everything was pulled off. I was having fun with these characters and with the main story. And then sub-plots and character beats were added that were pointless and the movie just kept moving as the pacing slowed down. By no means is this a good movie, but it’s not awful. It could have been a very entertaining and very intelligent thrilling summer movie. Instead it’s a serviceable, fun, but not-as-smart-as-it-thinks rainy day movie. Like my friend described it to me last night, it’s a fun movie that isn’t good. But at least it’s fun and I’ll probably see the sequel.