4 July 2013


Now You See Me is a film about stage magicians robbing banks. It's a film about stage magicians robbing banks, which doesn't resort to hand-waving hocus pocus or supernatural explanations of the characters' exploits. Sure, there's a separate mystery aspect, the resolution of which has caused some grumbling from the audience, but it's about stage magicians who rob banks, and it's a hell of a lot of fun.

The stage magicians in question are four different performers- a street magician, a mentalist, an escape artist and a con artist- who are brought together under mysterious circumstances. One year later, they perform as "the Horsemen", the biggest magic show attraction in Vegas. They pilfer large sums of money as part of their act, including audience participation in the process, and redistribute it to their fans. The cops are stumped, and the head of the investigation, Dylan Rhodes, becomes increasingly baffled as he faces off with the Horsemen and tries to uncover their secrets.

The film itself is like an illusion. There's no way to say this without it sounding like an arsey excuse to wave away any criticisms, but in light of how smart, snappy and fun this film largely turned out to be, any minor mistakes here are almost immediately forgivable. It's exceedingly silly, but it's also smarter than it is smart-arse, with some of the most enjoyable setpieces and dialogue scenes that I've seen in a movie all summer. While it's not the biggest blockbuster around, this is a hell of a lot more enjoyable than the unfunny comedies and new seriousness of tentpole features.

A big part of the fun in Now You See Me comes from watching people run rings around Rhodes. He's played by Mark Ruffalo and, like Michael Shannon's Oscar-worthy comedic turn in Premium Rush, he's basically treated like an idiot because he pretty much is an idiot. It's not like he's an Inspector Clouseau-type- he's good at his job, but his cynicism about magic and his sense of superiority causes him to play right into his adversaries' hands, over and over again. There's none of Shannon's sinister corrupt cop here, and Ruffalo's inherent likeability means that it never stops being funny.

The four Horsemen aren't villains, per se- they're just really bloody smug. Jesse Eisenberg is in Zuckerburg mode, Isla Fisher is a cheeky and beguiling escapist and Woody Harrelson brings his trademark brand of sleazy charm. Of the four, Dave Franco's conman is perhaps the least developed, but even his seemingly unresolved tension with the group plays into the film later on. There's a lot of that early set-up and later pay-off going on here- sometimes on a small scale, other times in pivotal plot turns, but always in an entertaining fashion.

The explanations of how the Horsemen pulled off each trick are so entertaining, (bolstered by the canned gravitas of Morgan Freeman, as a hack TV star who goes around debunking magicians' acts) that you'll be distracted from niggling questions about how the budget that must have gone into setting up certain tricks probably exceeded the potential rewards. Even if it tricks you into thinking that it's smarter than it really is, it only comes close to tripping over itself near the end, with one staggering overreach. I won't spoil the ending, but I will say that it's always better to fail ambitiously, than to simply fall short for lack of trying.

Now You See Me either succeeds or fails on much the same scale as a magician's show does- your mileage may vary, based purely on your level of cynicism. For a while, it will kick your arse with its surprisingly smart script and pacy popcorn fun, and whether its final act of prestidigitation impresses or disappoints you, it's a hell of a time in the cinema. The work of the stellar cast only adds to the fun too. This is a witty little bit of unabashed silliness that turned out to be one of the most purely enjoyable films of the year so far, and it's well worth your time.

Now You See Me is now showing in cinemas nationwide.
If you've seen Now You See Me, why not share your comments below?

I'm Mark the mad prophet, and until next time, don't watch anything I wouldn't watch.

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