Now You See Me is a very enjoyable shaggy dog story about magicians. However, the biggest sleight of hand by writers Ed Solomon, Boaz Yakin, Edward Ricourt and director Louis Leterrier is how they’re able to make the audience overlook what is at times an unconvincing and questionable plot and go along with the often preposterous goings on, and like any spectator at a Las Vegas Show, love every minute of it.
The story opens with four practitioners of the art of prestidigitation receiving mysterious summonses from a total stranger—and they actually show up at the time and place requested—why?, well, you’re so busy looking at everything else going on you don’t notice that there is no convincing reason given. From there it proceeds to a story that too often depends on predicting how people will act in situations where actions of people can’t possibly be predicted. And as a friend pointed out, you would think that if they were as great at the art of illusion as they claim, the group would come up with better getaway plans than simply running away (there’s a lot of running here, more than in an episode of Dr. Who).
But it’s hard to focus on such minor pickinesses when you are caught up in a story that rarely stops to catch its breath; has a plot that is clever and filled with sly and dazzling magic tricks (well, except for whenever hypnosis and mind control is used—these sections never felt convincing); and is headed by a first rate cast who is given a whirlwind of staircase wit in which everybody’s snarky attitude only makes them more ingratiating than alienating.
The gang of four is lead by Jesse Eisenberg as J. Daniel Atlas and you can tell how much Eisenberg’s star has risen in that he plays the magician in the opening with the least interesting magic trick and yet he’s given the most screen time and is made the leader of the act made up of the other three. His manic line deliveries, that are unmistakenly Eisenberg’s and no other, are backed by a Greek chorus made up of Isla Fisher, David Franco and Woody Harrelson, all of whom deliver their lines as if they were acting in a restoration comedy.
Mark Ruffalo uses his hangdog looks to great effectiveness here and elder statesmen Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman do what elder statesmen do—the same thing as the others, but with a lot more ease. Melanie Laurent is also on board. She is given nothing to do and she proceeds not to do it. Well, she is there as the love interest to Mark Ruffalo, but unfortunately, magic can only go so far, and the people involved could never make this part remotely believable.
The Future Folk is a blue grass music duo who dress in space suits pretending to be aliens. They’ve been entertaining bar crowds in NYC for many years now (they have a certain campy quality like that of Flight of the Concords). The movie, The History of Future Folk, is a tongue in cheek “origin” story of the singers and how they came to earth and became musicians. The duo is made up of Nils d’Aulaire (General Trius) and Jay Klaitz (Kevin) and while their music is clever and upbeat and catchy (and not enough of it is played in the film), the movie that’s been made about them (written by John Mitchell and directed by Mitchell and Jeremy Kipp Walker) feels tepid and unimaginative, as tepid and unimaginative as the emotions that register on d’Aulaire’s face.
The basic idea is that a comet is headed toward the Future Folk’s home planet, so Trius is sent to earth to wipe out civilization so his home planet can come and live here; but he is overcome by the beauty of music, something that doesn’t exist on his planet (leading to one of the movie’s more effective campy ideas since the music he hears is the type played in a Target). He decides to stay and become a singer and start a family. The pacing is slow and the plot turns run of the mill (it’s an example of the movie’s clunkiness that you don’t find out until half way through that Trius has been trying to contact his home planet since his arrival, but hasn’t been able to, leaving you to think for the majority of the film that this guy’s a real douche for deserting his planet as it’s about to be destroyed).
The most pleasing performance is probably given by April L. Hernandez as Carmen, who has the perkiness of a Rosie Perez. Her role is to fall for Kevin and only a talented actress could make this remotely convincing (in one scene Kevin paralyzes her with a spray and then kisses her against her will, and no one seems to think there is anything creepy about this). Onata Aprile plays Trius’ earth daughter; she’s the cute as a button little girl in What Maisie Knew.