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Jessie Eisenberg is a bank-robbing magician in “Now You See Me.” Photo courtesy of Summit Entertainment
Jessie Eisenberg is a bank-robbing magician in “Now You See Me.” Photo courtesy of Summit Entertainment
Arts Rancho Santa Fe

Film review: “Now You See Me” gets lost in its own magic

The giant-sized magic show called “Now You See Me” starts off with a big bang, but it quickly loses its magic touch and gets tangled up in the very trick it designed.We begin with the introduction to the Four Horsemen — showman J. Daniel Atlas (Jesse Eisenberg), escape artist Henley Reeves (Isla Fisher), mentalist Merritt McKinney (Woody Harrelson), and pickpocket Jack Wilder (Dave Franco). These talented individuals join forces and reinvent themselves as a popular troupe of magicians, reputed for robbing banks during their performances and rewarding the crowds with the profits.

One particular Las Vegas show involves the Four Horsemen pulling off a French bank heist, attracting the attention of Dylan Rhodes, (Mark Ruffalo), an FBI agent, and Alma (Mélanie Laurent), an Interpol detective.

As the both of them discover, however, tracking down and capturing these brainy entertainers is easier said than done.

The law turns to magic debunker Thaddeus Bradley (Morgan Freeman), who prides himself on his ability to expose the secrets behind magic tricks.

As the world holds its breath in anticipation of the Four Horsemen’s final act, Dylan and Alma find themselves struggling to stay one step ahead of their targets’ ingenious illusions.

Director Louis Leterrier always keeps the camera in constant motion, providing the audience a wide-encompassing view of the Four Horsemen’s performances. And considering this is a film about magic, it’s only natural that the visuals possess a flashy quality. An excellent example would be the Las Vegas show/French bank robbery, which by itself would have made a fine event in the real world.

As soon as the film departs from Las Vegas and travels to both New Orleans and New York City, the showmanship starts disappearing from the whole magic act. Whatever suspense or excitement we are supposed to feel hardly takes effect at all; the once-amazing magic soon starts to feel very mechanical.

Add that to a shaky on-foot chase through the crowded streets during Mardi Gras and an overly prolonged car chase in the Big Apple, and you can be sure the illusion won’t fool you again. It’s a shame the magic loses its appeal really fast after getting off to a good start.

In addition, the screenplay doesn’t permit the characters to develop, leaving us with plot-only tools that do what is required — perhaps too well for their own good. The instances where logic is used to explain the inner workings of the magicians’ secrets quickly become tedious instead of engaging, especially given the ill-timing of their arrival.

Without crossing over into spoiler territory, the big plot twist at the end didn’t work; the buildup was never there, and…well, let’s just say it should’ve focused on a different person.

Each member of the Four Horsemen is, basically, a one-note smooth-talker. Jesse Eisenberg is his usual self, speaking at a rapid pace and keeping a straight face while doing so. Woody Harrelson has the pleasure of delivering the witty lines, though he does stumble on more than one occasion when the explanations are too long-winded for him handle.

Isla Fisher is mostly wasted in a role that only demands she look pretty and keep the show moving. As for Dave Franco, he isn’t present as much alongside his fellow Horsemen, so it’s kind of hard to say there are “four” magicians when it appears to be “three” most of the time!

The rest of the cast is a mixed bag, in spite of the name power written all over it. Mark Ruffalo spends most of his screen time looking half-confused at what he’s dealing with, all while Mélanie Laurent does everything she can to prevent him from falling apart. The normally indispensable Michael Caine, who plays the Four Horsemen’s benefactor, is phased out early and never mentioned again. And, of course, big screen veteran Morgan Freeman is as clever as he has always been.

“Now You See Me” will no doubt prove to be an entertaining romp at the beginning for those hungry for a dazzling spectacle. That being said, the magic won’t leave much of an impression afterwards, because it can only work for so long.

MPAA rating: PG-13 for language, some action and sexual content.
Running time: 1 hour and 56 minutes
Playing: In general release