Four magicians of humble origin: sleight of hand specialist Daniel Atlas (Jesse Eisenberg), mind reader Merrit McKinney (Woody Harrelson), escape artist Henley Reeves (Isla Fisher) and pickpocket Jack Wilder (Dave Franco), are drawn together by an anonymous benefactor for a cryptic scheme. One year on, they headline Las Vegas as the Four Horsemen, big time stage illusionists backed by wealthy entrepreneur Arthur Tressler (Michael Caine) who climax their sold out show by seemingly robbing a bank in Paris, France for real. This draws the attention of dogged FBI agent Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo). Teaming with resourceful French interpol agent Alma Dray (Mélanie Laurent), Rhodes sets out to crack the case but is caught in a web of trickery and illusion, confounded at every turn by the wily magicians. Whereupon renowned magic debunker Thaddeus Bradley (Morgan Freeman) resolves to expose the Four Horsemen before they can pull off their final, most audacious heist.
More than one critic dismissed Now You See Me, in somewhat unkind and patronising fashion, as “The Prestige (2006) for dummies.” Granted, the film shares some things in common with that frankly muddled and self-important Christopher Nolan effort including the notable presence of Michael Caine along with fellow Nolan regular Morgan Freeman. More significantly, Now You See Me revisits the earlier movie’s central conceit of structuring its narrative along the lines of a magic trick. Co-writers Ed Solomon (Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure (1989), Men in Black (1997)), Boaz Yakin (director of engaging sports drama Remember the Titans (2000) and the Jason Statham vehicle Safe (2012)) and Edward Ricourt craft a plot that is nine-tenths razzle-dazzle and misdirection before the final flourish.
Watching the film becomes tantamount to catching a grand show at Las Vegas. It is slick and shallow with characterisation paper-thin. Scrutinise events too closely and the whole trick falls apart. One can choose to be cynical and decry it as glitzy nonsense, but truth be told director Louis Letterier does a fantastic job enabling viewers to be caught up in the sheer thrill of it all. It is a good old fashioned caper flick, a throwback to an era of high style and frothy fun. At its most sublime, Now You See Me achieves the same giddy sense of wonderment that comes from witnessing an astonishing feat of sleight-of-hand. The problems stem from the fact there is not a whole lot more to the film than that.
Compensating for the lack of depth, the writers craft some delightfully snappy dialogue. It is often laugh-out-loud funny with the charismatic cast clearly relishing the chance to play. Woody Harrelson snags all the best lines whilst Jesse Eisenberg and Isla Fisher prove an unexpected yet engaging screen pairing, though one area where Letterier drops the ball is in leaving their relationship undeveloped. Otherwise, he maintains a furious pace through a seemingly non-stop succession of breakneck chase sequences, often showcasing the same “free running” sequences that marked Transporter 2 (2005). Talented star-in-the-making Dave Franco steals the standout set-piece: a riotous fight scene involving disappearing tricks and playing cards flung as weapons that recalls a similar scene in John Woo’s oft-underrated Once a Thief (1991). The climactic reveal drew jeers from some quarters but proves satisfying on a narrative level concluding a lightweight but enjoyable, often deliciously fun ride.