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Now You See Me: a fun presentation can carry a movie through, but not hide, some significant plot weaknesses

Updated on April 16, 2014

There's a lot of fun to be had in a well produced magic show. A few months back, I came across episodes of Penn & Teller's show “Penn & Teller: Fool Us” on YouTube.

(I've mentioned Penn & Teller before, but this time it's to make a slightly different point.)

Each episode, several magicians come on-stage, perform their best magic acts and attempt to baffle and fool the magicians who are known for tearing other magicians a new one on a regular basis. Some of the tricks are fun to watch, while others are killed by their own performers.

Magic is as much about the presentation and illusion as it is the trick itself.

That is the biggest saving grace of Now You See Me.

But first, the story

As the movie opens, we find ourselves watching four different magic acts performed by four different magicians, each with their own style and hook. There's mentalist Merritt McKinney (Woody Harrelson), lovely escapist Henley Reeves (Isla Fisher), slight-of-hand Jack Wilder (Dave Franco), and the ostentatious J. Daniel Atlas (Jesse Eisenberg). They each receive a mysterious invitation from an unseen benefactor. Someone has a plan for them all, but the audience isn't let in on the secret.

One year later, the four magicians, now billing themselves as “The Four Horsemen” are performing in Las Vegas. In the act, they appear to have an audience member participate in the robbing of a bank. The next morning, behold and lo, the vault in said bank appears to have been emptied in the night.

Immediately, FBI agent Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo) is brought in to investigate the foursome regarding their involvement in the theft. He is joined on the case by French law enforcement officer Alma Dray (Mélanie Laurent). He also begins to butt heads with a professional magic debunker named Thaddeus Bradley (Morgan Freeman) who sells millions of DVDs as he exposes the secrets to magicians' greatest tricks.

Bradley is certain that Rhodes is unprepared to fully investigate this group of magicians and their rich benefactor, Arthur Tressler (Michael Caine), and warns Rhodes that the Horsemen are just warming up.

Dot dot dot

First off, let me say that this movie is quite an enjoyable ride. Just as it was fun to watch magicians perform to Penn & Teller, then to hear those two hint at just how the trick was done, this movie provides plenty of satisfaction by showing several tricks, then showing how a few of them work. It's a formula that carries the audience's interest and enjoyment right up until the ending.

Then it just … ends.

Without giving anything away, I'll just say that there was a lack of fulfillment in the ending, not a lack of resolution, per se. You understand what's happening, and the story does reach a logical conclusion. But I found myself wanting more of an explanation of “what was it all for?” and whatnot.

The other complaint that I would have to mention is the amount of suspension of disbelief required for the movie. None of the magic tricks that really matter are necessarily impossible. But much of the presentation of the Four Horsemen's magic acts rely on certain technologies that don't exist, or certain mental tricks that kind of strain believability at times.

But those problems are mainly relegated to aspects of the story that aren't crucial to the plot, so they're simple to accept and overlook.

Because the main story really is quite enjoyable.

But what do you think of the movie?

4.5 out of 5 stars from 4 ratings of Now You See Me

For me, I would have to admit that the lack of fulfillment at the end probably brings my final rating down to a strong 6 / 10. I would still recommend the movie as it really is enjoyable. But if it had a stronger ending, I could easily have given it a strong 7 or even an 8.

Now You See Me is rated PG-13 for language (including one “obligatory” though somewhat blink-and-you-miss-it “F”), a little sexuality, action violence, and a mildly disturbing sequence involving a tank of piranhas.


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