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Movie Review: "Now You See Me"

CCurmudgeon logo newBY VAN ROBERTS

Some movies ought to be watched more than once. The latest example is “Now You See Me” with Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Mark Ruffalo, Michael Caine, and Morgan Freeman. “Now You See Me” (***1/2 OUT OF ****) amounts to a good magic act. You think you see everything that you need to see, but you actually don’t see everything. The narrator/hero J. Daniel Atlas (Jesse Eisenberg) summarizes this ideology from the outset. “The closer you think you are,” Atlas reveals, “the less you’ll actually see.” His second, relevant line is: “The more you look, the less you see.” Without veiling my critical opinion of “Now You See Me” in literary lingo, let me say that I enjoyed it enough to watch it twice. The first time I saw everything. The second time I understood everything. Some may put off a second viewing until Red Box offers it as a rental, while others may stand in line the following day. Nevertheless, “Now You See Me” is rare because it makes you want to watch it again. Like any good magic act, this glossy melodrama keeps you distracted for many of its fleet-footed 115 minutes. “Now You See Me” deserves at least one star for capping off its plot with a sensational finale in under two hours! Meantime, “Clash of the Titans” director Louis Leterrier keeps this preposterous nonsense both audacious as well as spontaneous. He relies on Steadicams so co-lensers Mitchell Amundsen and Larry Fong can together make the world of illusion whirl before our eyes as much to induce vertigo as to keep us alert. Surprises and reversals occur almost every quarter hour to keep you on your toes. Honestly, I saw through at least half of this flashy gibberish, but I couldn’t figure out the cloaked identity of the enigmatic individual behind a hood. Indeed, everything else about “Now You See Me” is incomparable from its charismatic cast to the splashy CGI-special effects. This nimble adventure is as much fun to watch for its immediate gratification as well as its lasting gratification.now_you_see_me_xlg
A quartet of magicians known only as the Four Horsemen forms a heroic group of protagonists in “Now You See Me.” Arrogant J. Daniel Atlas (Jesse Eisenberg of “The Social Network”) specializes in sleight of hand antics. As a David Blaine style street magician, he is an incredibly sharp card shark. Sexy Henley Reeves (Isla Fisher of “Wedding Crashers”) tantalizes audiences with her exciting Houdini-like feats of escapism under extreme conditions. She must unlock the shackles confining herself to a glass box before a school of Piranha fish is dumped atop her. Hypnotist/mentalist Merritt (Woody Harrelson of “Zombieland”) uses his cerebral powers to divine the thoughts of others and often blackmail them. Finally, Jack (Dave Franco of “Fright Night”) employs his talents as a pickpocket, a card thrower, and safe-cracker. Each of these characters appears in an introductory vignette before they are assembled by an unknown leader under extremely cryptic circumstances as a team. They open their magic act at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. They announce they are going to stage a bank robbery. As a part of their show-stopping antics, the Four Horsemen teleport a random audience member (Jose Garcia) from Sin City to his bank vault in Paris. Right before the audience’s eyes, the guy attaches a bizarre-looking contraption to his head and vanishes from sight. A moment later, the guy finds himself standing inside the vault of his bank!  Millions of Euros in the City of Lights vanish, and the Horsemen find themselves in FBI custody for theft. Agent Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo of “The Avengers”) questions them with the help of French Interpol detective Alma Dray (Mélanie Laurent of “Inglorious Basterds”), but they cannot make their charges stick. Initially, Rhodes and Dray don’t cooperate with one another. Their approach to solving crimes differs as much as their attitudes toward each other. Miraculously, the Four Horsemen always manage to stay a couple of jumps ahead of them. Gigantic mirrors, holograms, doubles, hypnosis, and profuse quantities of flash paper constitute most of their magic arsenal. While the cops are pursuing our heroes, an ex-magician, Thaddeus Bradley (Morgan Freeman of “The Dark Knight”), who has acquired a reputation for debunking magicians, join the authorities to unmask the Horsemen.
“Now You See Me” shares a lot in common with the Michael Douglas movie “The Game” (1997) as well as the Kevin Spacey nail-biter “The Usual Suspects.” Consequently, even if you can keep up with this snappy saga, you may still stumble when you guess the identity of the character behind the hood. Clearly, either Leterrier or scenarists Ed Solomon of “Bill & Ted” fame, “Prince of Persia’s” Boaz Yakin, and rookie writer Edward Ricourt, or all, have read Agatha Christie. Agatha Christie plotting is the key to this intriguing mystery. Parisian-born Louis Leterrier learned the logistics of filmmaking as a director under the tutelage of French writer & producer Luc Besson with the first two Jason Statham “Transporter” thrillers. Leterrier also helmed the Jet Li crime thriller “Unleashed,” a movie with a happy confluence of charismatic characters and a rewarding finale. Leterrier’s reboot of the Marvel Comics mutant superhero character “The Incredible Hulk” with Edward Norton as the eponymous hero caught more of the spirit of the comic book than Asian helmer Ang Lee’s tragic “Hulk” (2003) with Eric Bana as the big, green guy. Leterrier went from comic book superheroes to mythological Greeks in “Clash of the Titans.”  This outlandish but adolescent sword and sandal opus with Sam Worthington furnished the requisite number of cliffhanger predicaments. Leterrier hasn’t made a bad movie, but “Titans” wasn’t as satisfying as the 1981 original with Harry Hamlin. Although “Now You See Me” careens through a labyrinth with a time limit, the characters emerge as an appealing group so you are rooting for them from the start, even when they have no business surviving some of the disasters that they survive. You can never really believe what your eyes are seeing in “Now You See Me,” but you’ll have a blast watching it.

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