Now You See Me (Louis Leterrier, 2013)
The last time Louis Leterrier and Morgan Freeman got together to make a movie, the result was 2005’s Danny the Dog, released in America as Unleashed. It’s widely (if you define “widely” as “critical reaction as measured by both Metacritic and Rotten Tomatoes and public reaction as measured by IMDB and Rotten Tomatoes”) considered Leterrier’s best movie by a country mile (as of this writing), and this reviewer is not inclined to disagree; I adore Danny the Dog something fierce, and much of Leterrier’s other work (two films in the Transporter franchise and remakes of The Incredible Hulk and Clash of the Titans) are epitomes of the brainless action film; what sets Danny the Dog apart is its fearsome intelligence. And when I saw a trailer for Now You See Me and noticed it was directed by Leterrier, I had hopes that same intelligence would be back, and so I wandered out to see it despite it having a trio of my least favorite actors currently working in Hollywood all in starring roles: Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, and Mark Ruffalo. And even there, there was a mitigating factor: the one time I have so far been able to stand Jesse Eisenberg on a screen was in Zombieland, and his co-star there was Harrelson, turning in his best role since Natural Born Killers. Whaddya know?
Sadly, the high hopes I had were not all realized, though I in no way mean to imply that Now You See Me is not Leterrier’s best flick since Danny the Dog. It is that, and it manages to be a slick, fun little heist film despite some woeful casting choices and a script (penned by Boaz Yakin, responsible for such timeless classics of motion pictures as Dusk Till Dawn 2: Texas Blood Money and Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights) that managed to avoid any semblance of character development. If Leterrier had re-teamed with Luc Besson, who wrote Danny the Dog, they might have come up with a movie just as good.
Plot: as we begin, four street magicians, Daniel Atlas (Eisenberg), his former assistant Henley Reeves (Wedding Crashers‘ Isla Fisher), mentalist Merritt McKinney (Harrelson) and grifter/prestidigitator Jack Wilder (Warm Bodies‘ David Franco), finish up various performances and discover tarot cards with a date, time, and address in New York City. When they get to the apartment, they find, in the words of a famous space traveller, “something wonderful.” Fast-forward a year later, and the four of them are now known as the Four Horsemen, slick TV magicians headlining Vegas, looking like run-of-the-mill David Copperfield wannabes until the final trick of one performance, where they appear to rob a bank… and when the folks at the bank (located in Paris) open the vault, well, 3.2 million Euros has vanished into thin air. Needless to say, this draws the attention of the Las Vegas PD, in the form of Dylan Rhodes (Ruffalo), who quickly finds himself paired with a gorgeous Interpol agent from Pairs, Alma Dray (Inglorious Basterds‘ Mélanie Laurent). The Horsemen left some clues to their next performance, to be held in New Orleans three days hence; can Rhodes and Laurent, with the reluctant help of professional debunker Thaddeus Bradley (Freeman), head off the Horsemen and their millionaire backer Arthur Tressler (Michael Caine)?
When the movie is good, it is very, very good. It’s beautifully shot, and I’m intrigued by the fact that what should have been perfectly standard thriller shots seemed like they shouldn’t have been in this flick and were thus a surprise (for example, the rooftop of a building in New York City; how many thrillers have you seen that in? And yet it seemed brand new here; much credit to co-DPs Mitchell Amundsen and Larry Fong). That takes some doing, and it’s more impressive than the movie’s magic tricks. Woody Harrelson turns in his most affable performance since Zombieland, and I almost, almost didn’t hate Mark Ruffalo. Now that takes some doing. On the other hand, Jesse Eisenberg has made himself a career, rather like Tom Cruise did, of getting up on a screen and playing Jesse Eisenberg. (I am still convinced the only reason he was so good in Zombieland is because the screenwriter wrote the character specifically for him.) There’s enough good acting here to balance out Eisenberg, but he’s still annoying. So maybe the complete and utter lack of character development that I think has been addressed in every review written on this movie to date is actually a good thing; if this script had tried to delve into Eisenberg’s character, we may have gotten more of him. ** ½