Let me explain something: almost without fail, magic tricks in movies are about as convincing as... well, nothing. Movie magic can be great; real magic can take your breath away; but the two can't exist at the same time. If you want to see a movie about great magic, check out the Ricky Jay doc DECEPTIVE PRACTICE (in theaters soon or now, depending on where you live). But that film is a documentary that handles tricks by showing them with no edits, usually in close up. In the film NOW YOU SEE ME, we're dealing with magicians with four different styles combining their talents to pull off some incredible tricks and rip off some big-money institutions for the greater good.
Let's see if I can explain this without putting you to sleep. The magicians—Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Isla Fisher and Dave Franco—are summoned together by a mysterious unseen ringleader (so immediately we try to guess who the mystery leader is from among the available cast) to perform together a massive-scale trick that involves a French bank president being transported from Las Vegas to Paris into a vault that has recently been emptied, while back in Vegas the money is sprinkled throughout the audience members from the rafters.
Naturally, the FBI is called in, led by investigator Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo), as is an agent from Interpol, played by Melanie Laurent. In turn, they consult with a magic debunker (Morgan Freeman), who doesn't really add anything to the proceedings other than a great voice. The director is Louis Leterrier (THE TRANSPORTER, THE INCREDIBLE HULT, CLASH OF THE TITANS), who doesn't seem happy unless he's overblowing something and basically wrecking it.
And in NOW YOU SEE ME, the thing he overblows are the illusions themselves by the four magicians (collectively known as the Four Horsemen, for no particular reason). In one poignant performance, the Horsemen transfer money from a rich dude's (played by Michael Caine) account into the accounts of members of the audience, until the rich guy's funds are gone. Wow, that's really an eye-popping, cinematic moment if ever there was one.
Like all examples of bad magic, this film just feels fake when it should feel natural. Even the search for the identity of the unknown ringleader is awkward. Clearly the filmmakers want us to suspect various cast members at different points during the film, but we can feel Leterrior with his hands all over us, guiding us from one suspect to the next, which of course means it isn't any of them.
NOW YOU SEE ME mistakes spectacle for intrigue, it throws a sheet over our heads and tries to convince us it's a great disappearing act. This film is just plain dumb, insulting, lacking in any form of wonder or mystery. All of the things it needs to be, it neglects. I can't even point to a particular actor and say, "At least he/she's around to keep us entertained." Nope, everyone is pretty much on the same faulty wavelength here. There's a false sense of urgency in every damn scene of this movie, and nothing about what's going on here justifies it. In the end, NOW YOU SEE ME will exhaust and confound you, in all the wrong ways.