Sunday, June 2, 2013

Vanished: NOW YOU SEE ME


If you had stopped the heisting magician thriller Now You See Me halfway through, I’d have been just as happy with the movie’s conclusion. Actually, I’d have been a smidge happier, since that would mean I got to leave the theater an hour earlier. Everything about the movie feels arbitrary to its core. If, at the midway point, you’d asked me to explain who the characters are, I’d have been at a loss. They’re given absolutely no characterization outside of what the plot demands of them, which is very little and up to change with the whims of the twists. If you’d asked me to describe the plot, I would’ve vaguely muttered something about stolen money and investigating cops. What happens makes little to no sense in the moment and less when you stop to think about it. By the movie’s conclusion, it’s easy to tell that Important Things are cohering, but awfully hard to figure out why or why we should care.

Within the first few scenes, it’s clear the movie has already failed Siskel’s lunch test: Is this movie more interesting than a documentary of the same actors having lunch? When you see the names in the cast, it’s easy to think a filmmaker can start with this much talent at his disposal and end up with at least a mildly diverting film. (You’d be wrong, by the way.) Jesse Eisenberg, Isla Fisher, Woody Harrelson, and Dave Franco play magicians who are given the blueprints for an amazing trick under mysterious circumstances. Michael Caine plays their bankroller (and a reminder that The Prestige is a much better magic thriller). Mark Ruffalo and Melanie Laurent are detectives who enter the picture when the magicians appear to heist millions of Euros out of a Parisian bank during their Vegas act. Finally, there’s Morgan Freeman as a magician debunker who exists herein as Mr. Explanation. I knew something had gone horribly wrong when I actually forgot he was in the movie when he wasn’t in a scene.

The arrogantly nonsensical plotting from screenwriters Ed Solomon, Edward Ricourt, and Boaz Yakin does nothing to explain why these magicians are suddenly famous. Their act looks lousy with terrible patter and a sparse collection of cheap tricks, the worst of which are clearly aided by CGI. But, they’re famous nonetheless and though we never get a good sense of their personalities or how they relate to each other beyond what we surmise about the actors themselves from other roles and public personas, they’re supposed to be, well, I don’t know. Are the magicians our protagonists? Maybe. Their stunt ends with the possibly stolen money rained down on the audience. How very Robin Hood of them. But then there’s the dogged detectives, who have a slight edge in the sensible, stable characterization department. I liked them more, but couldn’t make heads or tails of what the movie was trying to do with them.

I’d have actually gone along with it if it gave the actors more memorable reasons for doing what they do. Maybe the problem isn’t that it’s nuts, but that it’s not nearly nuts enough. Either way, I sat dumbfounded by how little I cared. Director Louis Leterrier, who started his career with promising actioners like The Transporter and The Incredible Hulk before hitting Hollywood junk like Clash of the Titans, films Now You See Me in a blur of fast-moving images that can’t move fast enough to outrun the looming sense of unsatisfyingly unstable plotting. Scattershot plot points, aggressively explained shrugs of twists, and nothing characters all contribute to a singularly mindless two-hour sit in a theater. It’s not that it doesn’t make sense to me; it’s that the movie can’t even be bothered to come up with parameters for itself with which it could make sense. At least this movie about magic manages to pull two good vanishing acts. The first was when my money disappeared from my wallet. The second was when the movie’s specifics left my mind almost entirely even a mere 12 hours after leaving the theater. 

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