You know from very early on that Now You See Me is going to be kind of a stupid film. It does it’s best to distract you from this with glitzy effects and dizzying (literally, at times) camera movements, as it tries to slickly tell the story of four street magicians who begin to make a name for themselves by using their skills with illusion to commit Robin Hood-style robberies and make a statement about the economic injustices in the world, while at the same time achieving a self-motivated ulterior motive. The magic shows are impressive and dazzling, the robberies brilliant though unlikely, and the film style all spit and polish over substance or character development. It’s sort of like a strange combination of the Ocean’s Eleven series with Step Up Revolution.
The glitz doesn’t cover up for the movie’s failings though. It’s about four magicians who are all willing to go to work for someone they’ve never met stealing millions of dollars for other people, becoming international fugitives, all for the possibility of joining some super secret order of magicians. It features a main magician (played by Jesse Eisenberg) who is so annoying that you desperately hope he will lose, pitting wits against a police officer (Mark Ruffalo) who is so stupid that you hope against hope that he is actually the mastermind of the thieves. It builds a story around plans in which money is stolen, but not hidden away afterwards, so really there is no reason the victims of the crimes (all painted as moral criminals themselves) cannot easily recover what they’ve lost. The plan also involves creating a high speed chase followed by a massive accident on a busy freeway, with no apparent concern over all the innocent people who might have been killed.
The movie also perpetrates that you can easily swap someone’s phone so that they won’t notice after an extended period of time (implying that you’ve replaced it with a phone of the exact same type, and also with all the same phone numbers, text messages, photos, etc. already on it), even when the person making the swap is under arrest (and thus would have presumably been searched) and had no way of knowing who their arresting office was going to be in advance (although based on the eventual reveals, I guess I can think of ways around that one).
You also have to assume that this one guy has the ability to just abruptly hypnotize people with the snap of a finger. Do people really do that?
The four magician characters never move beyond the level of characterization one expects to find in the Smurfs, for example – controlling, lecherous, nervous, and good-looking (guess which one is the girl). The film also has two all-star actors in supporting roles – Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman (appearing in their first film together that doesn’t also feature a bat-cowl) – who walk around saying lines and acting by nothing more than shear force of their personalities.
What it does do well is keep things moving at a zippy pace, and satisfactorily explain most of the illusions that the magicians create, which is certainly entertaining. There is apparently a sequel in the works and I have a vague hope that somehow they’ll pull together a plot and character dynamic to support all the glitzy technical shenanigans and makes for a movie that is more satisfying.