dir: Louis Letterier
It's pretty strange that I was excited to see this flick. How a man of my age gets to be excited by the prospect of watching a bunch of actors pretend to be magicians who pull off bank heists is a mystery even to me, dear reader.
Somehow the premise did its weird alchemy on my brain chemistry, and I was hungry for this flick despite knowing very little about it except for some positive reviews.
Yes, I was tremendously disappointed. Can you hear it in the tone of what's written thus far?
It would be unfair to call this flick terrible, perhaps. Calling it a worthless waste of my time would perhaps be closer to the mark.
The first fifteen minutes or so of flick introduces us to a number of magicians: sleight-of-hand guy, pickpocket, hypnotist and escapist. Someone is watching them as they do their thing. This someone wears a hood, and has his or her back to us, the audience, as they leave a tarot card for these various goons to find.
The sleight-of-hand guy is played by a guy so intensely arrogant that he could have been played by Mark Zuckerberg himself. Instead they get Jesse Eisenberg to play him. He turns down sex with a sweet young thing just because he sees this card appear in his boot.
There's no reason for the card to be so powerful; it's a mystery to us and to him for the whole film as to why he would have turned that girl down because of the card.
Some mysteries never get solved. Some girl does highly dangerous looking escapes from piranha-filled tanks, and she (being Mrs Sacha Baron Cohen) gets a card as well. Then there's the pickpocket guy who looks like a cheap knock-off version of James Franco (mostly because he's James Franco's brother, and I absolutely refuse to look up his actual name, though I desperately hope that it's Frank Franco), and the only person who comes out of this shemozzle intact, the hypnotist / mentalist played by Woody Harrelson, who provides the only enjoyment I got out of the entire flick.
These four people, whose characters had names but which I would not be able to remember (except for the girl's name Henley) even if you held a gun to my head, are enlisted by someone for something. Brought to a room filled with holographic 3D projectors, and some strangely lame imagery, they lose their tiny little minds and commit to something we never find out the merits of.
Hmm, you might think, fascinating and mysterious, what an intro. Sets the stage for exciting shenanigans, surely.
The screen tells us, unbelievably considering that the intro gives us no reason to care about the characters or to be intrigued as yet as to what is going on, that a year later these four cretins are the toast of Las Vegas, playing to sell out crowds and the ululating, baying masses. They have, in this year we didn't see and couldn't possibly care about, become media darlings and Vegas showmen because... the script said so. They have a rich benefactor (Michael Caine), and some other guy is trying to expose their magic tricks to the world (Morgan Freeman), and then they make it look like they've transported a guy picked at random from the audience and sent to France through a teleporter so he can help steal a shitload of money from the bank.
It's no trick, though, in that, well, obviously it's a trick, but somehow the bank in France did get ripped off, and the FBI wants to find out how these magicians pulled this crime of the century off.
Even though the FBI wants to know how this happened, and to solve the crime, they appoint a grumpy, half-asleep guy to the case who doesn't understand what's going on and doesn't seem to care. I've enjoyed Mark Ruffalo in almost everything I've seen him in, but I flat out hated him here. His is, for most of the flick's length, the worst performance in a film in which Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman give shitty performances too. In fact, I hated almost everyone in this flick, but for the performances of so many actors and the elements of so much of the film to actively irritate me, it surely meant that it was the script that I hated and even more so the directing, which could not have been much better.
The Four Horsemen, as they call themselves, are arrested and act so smarmy to the cops that you know they're guilty of something, and that the feds have no clue what to do. But it turns out the magicians don't really know what's going on either, and that everyone is being manipulated by Someone, who has revenge on their mind.
A French Interpol agent (Melanie Laurent, most famous at least to me for playing Shoshanna in Inglorious Basterds) traipses over to the States and does very little to justify her presence in this flick other than for being French and for being cute. She seems best placed to deliver awkwardly pronounced exposition about someone called Lionel Shrike as well, and there are numerous scenes of an increasingly confused and befuddled Mark Ruffalo yelling at her that she's probably working for the Four Horsemen, or for Lionel Shrike, or for Rupert Murdoch.
Never heard of Lionel Shrike? Do you have any reason to care about Lionel Shrike? Well, this flick isn't going to give any reason to care about him either.
What follows is a sequence of fake outs, fake outs within fake outs, fake 'near misses' with the cops, and increasingly pointless and convoluted attempts to both keep the public on side and to carry out actions assigned to them by their mysterious leader.
There's no reason for them to be doing much of the stuff they do in the flick. There's two layers upon which these kinds of flicks depend. The main characters in this kind of magic trick - heist flick have to be just enough behind the protagonists to almost be caught by them, seemingly increasing the stakes, but not so far behind that the plot grinds to a halt. So characters will do and say stuff for the benefit of other characters because they're tricking other characters or are themselves being tricked. But we, the audience, can't know too much either, because then the tension, whatever can be generated, would dissipate.
But then characters doing stuff that is revealed to be 'fake' down the track, for lack of a better term, that was done just to keep us in the dark, for which there's no reason why the characters would do the stuff unless they know they're being watched by us in the audience, is just flat out aggravating. There's a whole mess of stuff that, when the big reveal occurs, forces you to look back at everything that's transpired and think, "But if that's true, why would they have done and said this or that if they were in on it the whole time?"
And you're not meant to do that, because you'll care so much about the characters and so much about them getting away with it that you won't look back in anger.
Not bloody likely. At no stage was I given a single reason, whether before or after the reveal, for any of the stuff that went on. Oh, we're given a motivation for the person who was manipulating everything that transpired, which is meant to be a good one, but it doesn't explain why anyone and everyone else went along with any of this lunacy. The motivations of the Four Horsemen, who were doing all of this on some undefined hope of achieving... something are the least fleshed out reasons of all.
About the only moments of the flick I actively enjoyed involved an action scene, a fight scene (out of place you'd think in one of these flicks) between Not James Franco, Mark Ruffalo and some other guy. In a flick lazy and pointless before and after this scene, it was an explosion of energy and a perfectly realised little scene that wouldn't have been out of place in an early Jackie Chan flick, or one of the few flicks Brandon Lee did before he popped his clogs.
It's followed horribly by the least likely death scene, followed by the least likely explanation for the set up of the death scene, so much so that it re-soured me after those brief moments of happiness.
Woody Harrelson has fun with the role of a cold reader who's masterful as psyching people out. He lends the role the fun and energy no-one and nothing else can muster except with CGI, of which there is plenty in a flick you wouldn't think would need that much of it. I liked him, but that was about it.
This horribly successful flick will doubtless spawn at least another sequel, which I think is a shame, because you're ultimately rewarding people for bad behaviour.
The natural follow-on from the title of Now You See Me, is, obviously, Now You Don't. And I agree, wholeheartedly. Don't See this movie. It's craptacular.
4 reasons that Jesse Eisenberg is becoming the actor who is striving for the World’s Most Punchable Face Award out of 10
“If you could reenact that look of absolute befuddlement, it would be perfect for the cover of my DVD.” – yes, and perfect for the cover of this flick’s DVD as well, no doubt – Now You See Me.