By Laurie Coker
Once in NYC, I fell prey to a street magician and since then I have a bit of an aversion to the trade, but not the talent. I remember loving David Coppefield and sat in awe at one of his shows, years ago. Like many magic tricks, perhaps all in fact, Now You See Me, entertains the audience with flashy gimmicks and awe-inspiring distractions. From start to almost finish, French director Louis Leterrier’s sleight of hand production delivers intrigue, excitement and action. Much like the Oceans films and with the speed of excitement of Leterrier’s Transporter films, Now You See Me engages with its high-energy, flashy, smoke and mirror antics and an exceptional cast.
The movie opens with the introduction of its main players, offering brief displays of their talents: Jesse Eisenberg as J. Daniel Atlas, an arrogant, celebrity prestidigitator; a quirky, tightly wound Woody Harrelson, as Merritt McKinney, a once famous mentalist; Isla Fisher, as Henley Reeves, an escape artist, who makes her garish debut pretending to plunge, shackled, into a tank of piranhas; and pretty boy Dave Franco, as Jack Wilder, a quick-witted, pickpocket. They are drawn together by a mystery person, who uses tarot-type cards as bait. After a year as a team, the masterful quartet pulls off its first hit, somehow robbing a bank in Paris from a stage in Vegas, not too keep the money, but rather to drop it on the awestruck audience. In that audience is Morgan Freeman, as Thaddeus Bradley, a former magician who makes his living exposing the tricks of other magicians, and soon to involved are Michael Cain, as Arthur Tressler a multimillionaire and team benefactor, Mark Ruffalo as FBI agent Dylan Rhodes and Mélanie Laurent, as Alma Dray, an agent from Interpol sent in to assist the FBI.
Perfect pacing, until its final act that is, keeps the audience on the edge – draw in by this fun, interesting and talented cast and Leterrier’s huge “magic” show extravaganza. Every member of this cast pleases even minor characters, and who would expect less? The veteran actors do what they do well, and the younger set adds fresh flair and fantastic energy. Although Franco felt a bit wasted in the magic world, he does play nicely into the story as the rookie of the bunch. It is awesome to see Cain and Freeman, and I adore Ruffalo. The cast’s chemistry provides palpable energy and even with limited characterization, we connect with them all.
Going far beyond the illusion of a simple tale of big magic, Leterrier includes almost everything a film audience wants – high speed foot and car chases, wild brawls, romance, twists and turns and witty humor. Unfortunately, however, the final scenes fall a tad flat compared to the monumental build up that pleases so well. This is not to say Leterrier doesn’t surprise, but with so much fantastic stuff leading up to the climax and his unexpected and impressive turns, I hoped for more of a pay off and one, frankly, a bit less predictable. Still this minor annoyance did not take away from my overall enjoyment of the film.
Starting off what is sure to be an impressive summer season, Now You See Me gets the film lovers adrenaline pumping. Anti-climatic ending or not, I thoroughly enjoyed this PG-13 rated, star-studded, crime thriller and am placing an A- in my grade book. I love this cast, the pacing and the pleasure of the journey. Who needs perfect when everything else works so well?