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Movies Review

'Now You See Me' review: Magic eludes Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson

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Released on Wednesday, Jul 3 2013

Director: Louis Leterrier; Screenwriters: Ed Solomon, Boaz Yakin, Edward Ricourt; Starring: Jesse Eisenberg, Isla Fisher, Woody Harrelson, Dave Franco, Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, Mark Ruffalo; Running time: 115 mins; Certificate: 12A


There is no-one quite so smug as a magician enjoying the bafflement of the crowd and this alleged thriller, about a rogue team of illusionists, is full of it. Of course, the filmmaking process - ever more reliant on special effects - precludes any 'wow' factor, so what you're left with, essentially, is Jesse Eisenberg, Isla Fisher, Woody Harrelson and Dave Franco strutting about, being annoying.

That's the least of the film's problems. Action director Louis Leterrier (the man behind The Transporter films and Clash of the Titans) is so consumed with keeping an air of mystery about the spookily-named 'Four Horsemen' that it's impossible to identify with their audacious mission to rob banks and big businesses - as if by magic - and redistribute the wealth among the crowds.

Presumably, Leterrier hoped that anti-banker sentiment in the midst of the global financial crisis would be enough to get filmgoers onside, but that only works for a short while before the general cockiness of the Horseman (and particularly Eisenberg, doing a shadow of his turn as the insufferable geek in The Social Network) begins to grate. If he is an altruist, he conceals it well.

Jesse Eisenberg in Now You See Me
Parading around the stage and occasionally flying on and off it, it's impossible to escape the feeling that the robberies - conducted remotely - aren't about reimbursing the masses as much as fuelling the egos of the robbers. Mark Ruffalo takes umbrage as the investigating officer who's always one step behind despite the help of a veteran debunker (Morgan Freeman, dialling it in).

Even when Ruffalo makes a breakthrough, he's made to look a dummy because Leterrier never comes up with a credible, much less clever explanation for how the robberies are being pulled off. The backstage mechanics are so elaborate and so utterly ludicrous, they would have been better suited to an instalment in the Wallace & Gromit franchise.

What is genuinely mystifying is why Michael Caine signed up for this; playing a high-roller who backs the Horsemen and gives Freeman the stink-eye for trying to spoil the party. There's no substance to the part, but it's the same for everyone involved, trying desperately to make something out of nothing while Leterrier zooms in, out and all around, trying to create the illusion of pace.

Eventually, he pulls focus away from the Horseman and makes Ruffalo the heart of the story - even throwing in a romantic subplot with a French Interpol agent (Melanie Laurent). Inevitably, the cop has a few trust issues, having to deal with so many tricksters, but Laurent's poker-face may only be a sign that she can't really act. Whatever the case, there is no magic between the two.

The Horsemen steal back the limelight for their final, most ambitious yet unimpressive trick which mostly involves standing around. Leterrier also pulls a surprise from his sleeve to make jaws drop in amazement - at how this film ever got made. Earlier, Eisenberg explains a vanishing act using a box and some mirrors. It turns out that, despite appearances, the box is always empty. Nuff said.

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