The illusions aren't real, but the colorful cast and fresh angle elevate it from a contrived con movie
The Four Horsemen – Dave Franco (from left), Jesse Eisenberg, Isla Fisher and Woody Harrelson – pull off heists, robbing from the rich and giving to their audiences in "Now You See Me," directed by Louis Leterrier.
Starring: Dave Franco, Jesse Eisenberg, Isla Fisher, Woody Harrelson, Morgan Freeman, Mark Ruffalo
Directed by: Louis Leterrier
Stars: 3 out of 4
SLEIGHT OF HEIST
"Now You See Me" echoes many classic caper movies. A few of our favorites that came to mind:
"The Thomas Crown Affair" (1999): Like the Four Horsemen, wealthy art thief Thomas Crown (Pierce Brosnan) isn't in it for the money. And he, too, has the authorities running in circles trying to figure out his game, being played out in the open for all to see in this remake of the 1968 film.
"The Score" (2001): More than just another heist movie, as criminal masterminds Nick Wells (Robert De Niro) and Jack Teller (Edward Norton) are both engaged in detailed deceptions.
"Ocean's Eleven" (2001), "Ocean's Twelve" (2004), "Ocean's Thirteen" (2007): All three involve elaborate heists that require Danny Ocean (George Clooney) and his ever-increasing cast of compatriots to get their foils – and the audience – anticipating one thing while they do another.
Though "Now You See Me" is filled with more magicians than we've seen in one movie in quite a while, don't go to the theater thinking this is a film about magic.
No, this is a caper film, with a little bit of payback thrown in for good measure.
Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg, Isla Fisher and Dave Franco star as four street magicians recruited by a mysterious hooded figure, who wants them to stage a spectacular magic show.
In return for the fame and notoriety they will achieve by executing these stunts, the Four Horsemen, as they are dubbed, must perform public magic acts in which they pull off three spectacular heists, each involving millions of dollars.
This is complicated by the fact that after they pull off the first heist — a bank robbery in France while performing in Las Vegas — they will have to commit heists two and three under the scrutiny of the FBI, led by agent Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo) and Interpol agent Alma Dray (Melanie Laurent). They also are being pursued by opportunist Thaddeus Bradley (Morgan Freeman), who makes a nice living debunking magicians and their acts. Exposing the Four Horsemen would be the crowning achievement in his career.
Because they have movie magic on their side, their tricks aren't really magic at all, just three con games being played out on a very public stage. The magic angle provides a fresh venue for a heist film, because you can watch only so many movies where a bunch of old bank robbers or con artists get together for one last, best score.
The ensemble cast is strong from top to bottom. Eisenberg, Harrelson and Freeman fare best, because their characters are the most colorful of the bunch, giving each the opportunity to steal scenes.
"Now You See Me" borrows heavily from its caper movie predecessors and doesn't break much ground in that regard. It plays out a bit like a big-budget, movie-length version of an episode of "Leverage," where they pull off a deception-filled heist in every episode.
And having the Four Horsemen repeatedly make the FBI look foolish gets a bit tiresome after a while. Apparently, the folks at the FBI have never seen a con before or watched a con artist movie, because they keep getting duped, sometimes by some pretty obvious stunts.
However, the movie doesn't take itself too seriously, and if you don't take it too seriously, either, it makes for a good time at the theater.
With all good caper films, the ending is crucial because the audience shouldn't be able to see it coming if the movie's going to succeed. "Now You See Me" scores on that point, coming up with a solution that's satisfying and fits the evidence provided earlier in the film, even if it is more than a bit whimsical regarding the willingness of the Four Horsemen to commit several major felonies in order to achieve infamy.