'Now You See Me' pulls a fun rabbit out of a dumb hat
‘Now You See Me’ pulls a fun rabbit out of a dumb hat

The level of snark in the screening of “Now You See Me” was at an all-time high. Part of me wonders why these people even go to see movies if all they want to do is complain about them.

Not that there isn’t plenty to complain about in the story of four magicians who stage entertaining shows while redistributing wealth and evading capture by the FBI. It’s kind of dumb. It drags in spots. The central romance doesn’t make much sense.

It’s entertaining fluff, so long as you don’t think about it. The tagline is “Look closely, because the closer you think you are, the less you will actually see.” Or, in my case, you’ll see all those little threads that will unravel the whole story if you give a little tug.

OK, a quick synopsis: Four low-level street magicians are gathered together when they receive a Tarot card invitation. There’s J. Daniel Atlas (Jesse Eisenberg), the street magician. Henley Reeves (Isla Fisher) his former assistant who is now performing magic in a club for frat guys? It’s…not clear. There’s Merritt McKinney (Woody Harrelson) as the formerly famous mentalist. And Jack Wilder (Dave Franco) the half-magician/half-thief, which sounds way more D&D than I intended.

They are brought to an apartment in New York City where an elaborate display shows them blueprints for some fancy magic tricks. Holographic blueprints. Because…ugh.

…one year later…

Yeah. One year later. Now, these disparate magicians are “The Four Horsemen” and they’re being bankrolled by millionaire Arthur Tressler (Michael Caine, or as he would say it “My Cocaine”) for a series of big, one-night-only magic shows.

In the audience is magic debunker Thaddeus Bradley (Morgan Freeman), who plans on turning a profit by showing how they do their tricks. Including a trick that seemingly teleports $3 million in Euros to Las Vegas from a French bank.

This all brings in FBI agent Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo), who is a renegade smart-ass who doesn’t have time for this shit because he’s going after mobsters and blah blah blah. I usually love Ruffalo, but holy hell did this act get old quickly, especially when he was dealing with Interpol agent Alma Dray (Melanie Laurent).

What follows is a game of cat and mouse, with Ruffalo interrogating the Four Horsemen, becoming enraged by them, seeking Freeman’s help, chasing them to New Orleans, to New York…it’s kind of a blur. And maybe that’s because it needs to be blurry to be enjoyed.

Movies call for a willful suspension of disbelief–a point “Now You See Me” makes about enjoying the wonder of magic quite often. If you’re not open to it, you won’t be amazed. I don’t know if that was meant to be a shield for the film by the writers, but it came off as a bit defensive. “If it has to make sense, then you’re not going to enjoy it.”

But I fear I’m being too negative because there is plenty to recommend “Now You See Me” as dumb summer fun. Director Louis Leterrier (“The Transporter,” “The Incredible Hulk”) has fun moving the pieces around and the actors are all game. Franco has some great action scenes evading Ruffalo and Michael Kelly (one of my favorite character actors) and Harrelson and Eisenberg fall into that easy chemistry that made “Zombieland” so enjoyable.

Laurent’s chemistry with Ruffalo isn’t as strong. She’s lovely but damaged in some way that’s never explained, and they constantly go from angry to mooning over each other and back again.

Not that the FBI is always portrayed in the finest light in other films, but “Now You See Me” makes it seem like the entire agency is filled with angry, petty men who are so stubborn that they keep playing into the Four Horsemen’s plans. And that’s another thread for you — a few key decisions would have everything falling apart. Or just plain stalled. I guess, in the rush of the action, you can forget about that. But as soon as the film slows down to focus on Ruffalo and Laurent, the mind wanders back and says, “Wait a second, that’s dumb.”

Dumb, however, is not bad. Dumb can be enjoyable. This isn’t the most enjoyable dumb movie around, by a long shot, but you could do worse during the summer doldrums.

I rate this 2.5 Woody Harrelson hats out of five.

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