Imagine, for a moment, if the stars of the “National Treasure” movies were not do-gooder history buffs, but unlikable magicians. Then imagine that everything they did made even less sense than a miles-deep cavern under Wall Street or a city of gold inside Mount Rushmore. Add a heaping helping of bad CGI and a misplaced sense of vengeance and you have “Now You See Me,” one of the stupidest movies I’ve watched in a long time.
“Now You See Me” isn’t really riddled with plot holes so much as it is a giant hole with a little bit of plot poured into its gaping maw, but I’ll do my best to explain. Four magicians with various skill sets and levels of fame (Jesse Eisenberg, Isla Fischer, Dave Franco and Woody Harrelson, whose charm in the role makes me long to see his character in a far better movie) are mysteriously summoned to the same abandoned New York apartment. For reasons unknown and later uncovered in a reveal so sloppy that you don’t realize it’s a reveal until later, the quartet teams up to become a team known as “The Four Horsemen” – seemingly in the magic game to win riches and notoriety, but ultimately after something much more conspiratorial (it is here that the movie most obviously compares to “National Treasure,” and not favorably).
The Four Horsemen earn the attention of the FBI when they rob a Paris bank seemingly by magic, giving away the millions of euros to an enthralled Las Vegas crowd and promising to commit similar magical crimes in the future. They are then followed by a gruff FBI agent played by Mark Ruffalo and a tougher-than-she looks Interpol agent played by Mélanie Laurent. The two do their best with inane material, but the three screenwriters responsible for this mess are content to force a silly love story subplot on the duo and every seemingly angry but righteous cop stereotype on Ruffalo. There are also important characters played by Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine, but their roles in the story are so poorly explained in the movie that I won’t bother with them here.
Besides its hacky dialogue, the movie makes several other basic mistakes in its construction – a footchase in New Orleans is shot so sloppily that I have no idea what actually happened – but its primary flaws lie in its plot. “Now You See Me” fancies itself a slick, cool-looking heist movie, and for a few brief moments it is. But the key to pulling off a good heist movie is to be able to explain yourself – or at least to trick the audience into believing you’ve explained yourself – and you’d be hard-pressed to find a movie that does a worse job of explaining itself than this one does.
The film staunchly denies the existence of “real” magic while continually making its leads do the impossible. Though a couple of the bigger heist set-pieces receive Ocean’s 11-style denouement, they don’t hold up to even cursory scrutiny, and the film’s ridiculous climactic heist/trick receives no explanation at all. The moment of maximum incredulity comes in the film’s final twist, the logic of which falls apart as soon as it comes out of a character’s mouth (more on this in a final note below, if you’re interested). By the time the credits roll, “Now You See Me” has become nothing but a string of ludicrous moments draped in gaudy light shows, betrayed by their own CGI as being undoable.
The biggest shame of all is that “Now You See Me” does have a couple of good elements, like the aforementioned Harrelson (and a hypnosis trick he pulls at the Horsemen’s second show) and a fistfight that’s as much about sleight of hand and card tricks as it is about throwing punches. The movie’s trailer promises a caper for the 99 percent, as the fat cats get robbed by the scruffy up-and-comers, but you’ll be the one feeling mugged if you pay full price to see this piece of crap.
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Final note (MINOR SPOILERS): If you’ve seen/go see the movie, you learn that the twist ending is predicated on a person planning to pull a trick literally decades after he or she conceives of it. Considering that the character’s plan would have had to begin in the mid-to-late 1980s – well before the invention of most of the technological advances on display in “Now You See Me” – how could the character plan any of these machinations, let alone install and carry them out without anyone noticing?