Now that Arrested Development Season 4 is finally at last a thing, complete with brand-new jokes about how much people hate magicians, there could be no better time to reboot the whole profession — with, say, some kinda team of mindfuck superheroes who, I don’t know, assemble to plan an intercontinental series of bank heists.
That is, of course, what Now You See Me is up to, hardwiring the most irresistibly cheesy elements of pop culture together and then setting it off like a glitter bomb. The Four Horsemen are a team of ridiculously skilled street and nightclub magicians brought together for said caper: Woody Harrelson is the mentalist (asshole), Isla Fisher the escape artist (eye candy), Dave Franco the street hustler (newbie), and Jesse Eisenberg the card sharp (leader). Also starring Michael Caine as Powerful Rich Guy and Morgan Freeman as Voice of Authority. Vegas! New Orleans! New York! If there were a gland for summer movie entertainment, this movie would be sitting in the next seat over, busily working it.
You obviously expect a total lack of shame from a movie with this many outsize elements — the stop in New Orleans at Mardi Gras is done partly to get justice for Katrina victims — not to mention the kind of massive disbelief suspension structure that requires a detailed blueprint. Yet all the noise is just a distraction, inelegantly created by director Louis Leterrier (Hulk ’08, Clash of the Titans ’10) to divert you from the secret held by his screenwriters: their script leads to a dead end, one that flies in the face of plot, logic, physics, and pretty much everything else involved in either magic or crime. You expect a movie like this to strain credulity, too, but Louis is super messy with his, um, misdirection, leading to a series of Fincheresque mindfuck (mindfreak?) twists that are far too clumsy to fool its marks. Mark “Hulk” Ruffalo’s Javert-like cop centerpiece is basically a younger, thinner, more emotionally stable Chazz Palminteri circa The Usual Suspects, and that makes sense, because not only is nothing what it seems to be here, nobody is, either.
Make no mistake: the buildup is dazzling. But even with the pulpy characters, some borrowed Ocean’s 11-13 shine, and impressive effects (3D light shows!), the endless series of endings deflate everything the first hour manages to accomplish; set up by a pedestrian car chase, they feel, well, pulled out of a hat. Yet all those twists might still have worked if Leterrier had bothered to set them up properly instead of breathlessly pursuing the crime angle — his pacing steamrolls everything in its path, including the development of his characters and, more importantly, their motivations. The reveal therefore feels both random and predictable; the film’s tag is “The More You Look, The Less You See,” but that’s an irony they surely didn’t intend. And speaking of irony, while it would be wrong to spoil the ending of Now You See Me, the film’s setup is actually lots more fun, and thus worth keeping quiet. As for how Leterrier pulled the movie’s metaillusion off, however, that I can tell you: he didn’t.