out of Five
Running time: 116
Despite decent performances, this is a hugely disappointing, poorly conceived and badly directed thriller that ultimately fails thanks to the sheer contempt it displays for its audience.
What's it all about?
Directed by hack-for-hire Louis Leterrier, Now You See Me stars Jesse Eisenberg as illusionist Daniel, who's summoned by a mysterious stranger and teamed with hypnotist Merrit (Woody Harrelson), escapologist Henley (Isla Fisher) and street magician-slash-hustler Jack (Dave Franco, brother of James). A year later, they appear as a team of Las Vegas stage illusionists known as The Four Horsemen and stage an elaborate trick in which they appear to rob a Paris bank before showering their audience in money.
Needless to say, their stunt draws the attention of the authorities and soon FBI agent Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo) and Interpol detective Dray (Melanie Laurent) are hot on their trail as the Horsemen prepare for two similar shows in New York and New Orleans. Meanwhile, the Horsemen's financial backer (Michael Caine) gets increasingly nervous and celebrity debunker Thaddeus Bradley (Morgan Freeman) attempts to work out what they're up to.
To be fair, Now You See Me starts well, establishing the four illusionists and setting up an intriguing central mystery; however, things start to go wrong as soon as the film imposes that ‘One Year Later’ cut to their stage show, since up until that point, the characters have been as in the dark as we have, so the cut feels like a door slamming in the audience's face. It's also frustrating because the performances are good enough for us to want to spend time with these characters and then they are abruptly removed from centre stage, replaced by characters that we don't care about.
It's difficult enough to make a film about magic and/or illusions, since the audience is naturally suspicious of CGI trickery and the like. Unfortunately, there's so much flashy gimmickry going on here that you quickly realise the reveal is going to be meaningless and your interest dwindles accordingly.
The film's biggest problem is that the poorly conceived script can't decide whether we're meant to be rooting for the Horsemen to hoodwink the authorities and get away with it or willing the cops to take them down.
On top of that, the badly directed finale displays utter contempt for the audience, attempting to dazzle with a ludicrous flurry of exposition that makes no sense whatsoever and ends up generating snorts of derisive laughter instead. Essentially, the film fails to realise that movies like this have to have clever twists that stand up to a second viewing if they're going to be successful, rather than just throwing nonsense in our faces.
Now You See Me is an insultingly bad thriller that fails to engage on any meaningful level. Don't bother seeing it and watch it magically disappear from cinemas instead.