BY STEWART SMITH
I love the concept of "Now You See Me."
The idea of magicians and hypnotists pulling off high-stakes bank heists is pretty fantastic, to the point where I'm kind of surprised that it hasn't ever been used before. (Though, if it has been used before, someone let me know when because I want to watch that movie.) It makes sense that in order to pull off a big bank robbery you'd need to be quite skilled at distraction and misdirection, the bread and butter of any magician or illusionist worth their salt. It's just a flat-out fun idea.
Which is why it's somewhat disappointing that "Now You See Me" ends up feeling a bit thin. It's a breezy, light film that blazes along to its somewhat predictable conclusion, but it lacks a distinctive personality and it also isn't quite as clever or smart as it wants you to think it is.
We're, at the start, individually introduced to each of the Four Horsemen, a team of magicians who are corralled by a mysterious individual for a larger plan that remains somewhat nebulous as to its endgame. There's Daniel Atlas (Jesse Eisenberg), a fast-talking ladies man who specializes in card tricks and street magic. His former assistant (and flame), Hennley (Isla Fisher) prefers escapist illusions, such as worming her way out of piranha-infested water tanks. Merrit (Woody Harrelson) was once a big timer, but his jail time has reduced this mentalism and hypnotism specialist to essentially being a con man. Finally there's Jack Wilder (Dave Franco), a newbie hustler who uses his sleight of hand skills to lift wallets.
But once 3 million in cash goes missing as part of their Las Vegas act, FBI agent Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo) gets hot on their trail to both debunk the group's "magic" and figure out just how this group managed to rob a bank in Paris while standing on a stage in Vegas. He thinks he may find some help in Thaddeus Bradley (Morgan Freeman), who makes millions off debunking and revealing magicians' tricks, though it's clear Thaddeus has his own agenda.
The first hour or so of the movie makes you think this thing may actually keep it up to the finish line. Sadly, the script can't really decide who to focus on: Dylan or the Horsemen, so you end up with a distractingly uneven story that can't seem to decide on whose story it wants to tell.
You also have characters (i.e. Thaddeus) who end up being largely inconsequential, or entirely forgotten (such as Michael Caine's millionaire financier).But more than anything it feels like it mostly expends all that great energy and focus in the first half. Magicians always try to have some kind of big finale, but the screenwriters seem to have forgotten this, and thusly let the movie just kind of jog its way to the finish when it should have been sprinting.
Also I was left wishing we had more exclusive time with the Horsemen as they never really get much of a chance to establish chemistry together. I like Franco and Harrelson's characters well enough that I'd have been happy just to see these two team up and go on adventures scamming everyone they come across, though much of that comes from those actors seeming to have a bit more wiggle room. All the Horsemen are woefully underwritten, but Fisher and Eisenberg never seem to have the opportunities Franco and Harrelson get to have a little fun.
Still, the strength of the concept and a couple fun performances were enough to keep my interest throughout. The ending leaves things open enough that we could well see the further adventures of the Four Horsemen which I would probably enjoy seeing.