Jesse-Eisenberg-Woody-Harrelson-Isla-Fisher-Dave-Franco-Now-You-See-Me

Less than 5 minutes into Louis Leterrier’s star-studded new magic heist flick, Now You See Me, Jesse Eisenberg’s theatrical street illusionist, J. Daniel Atlas, tells an enamored fan, the closer you look, the less you see. Ironically, the Copperfield-wannabe might as well be describing this paper-thin romp as well, because it too is best enjoyed at surface level.

Despite the director’s natural gift for fast-paced action and visual showmanship, not to mention a talented cast of charmers that includes Eisenberg, Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine, Woody Harrelson, Isla Fisher, Mark Ruffalo, and Melanie Laurent, Now You See Me has about as much depth as an episode of Wizards of Waverly Place and not nearly as much characterization.

In addition to meeting Atlas and glimpsing his fast hand and David Blainey flair, we are also immediately introduced to Woody Harrelson’s Merrit Mckinney, a former A-list magic man and “mentalist” who built a huge career based on his powers of hypnosis and psychic suggestion decades ago, but who now uses the same parlor tricks to swindle innocents for his supper. Then there’s Henley Reeves (Isla Fisher), Atlas’s estranged former stage assistant who’s since put her days of being sawed in half behind her in order to perform her own death defying Houdiniesq escapes on what appears to be the cage fighting circuit.

All three gifted yet struggling illusionists hope for a shot at the bright lights of the Vegas Strip where Penn and Teller, Chris Angel, and of course, David Copperfield have become entertainer-demigods lording over mega-budgeted extravaganzas and legions of obsessed fans.

The trio soon get their wish when they receive mystery magic cards from an unnamed “fan” seeking to unite them, along with Dave Franco’s Jack Wilder, a quick-handed pick pocket and all around hustler, so that they may carry out some nebulous global master plan that will most certainly include a bit of illusion. Cut to a year later and the four (mostly) random strangers are now the Four Horseman, a larger-than-life, headlining act performing at Las Vegas’s opulent MGM Grand, and conspicuously funded by unabashed 1%er, Arthur Tressler (Michael Caine).

Dream-residency be damned however, because soon the unknown plan has kicked into high gear and the foursome pull off a seemingly impossible trick in which they rob a venerable bank in Paris, only to shower the MGM’s audience with the loot- Robin Hood style, without ever leaving the stage. In doing so, they incur both the wrath and skeptical fascination of Mark Ruffalo’s tough cop, Dylan Rhodes, along with a pretty French Interpol agent played by Melanie Laurent.

Throw in Morgan Freeman as a mysterious aficionado, a boat-load of flashy stunts, and enough large crowd scenes to keep Michael Bay happy for months, and you’ve got this film in a nutshell. Fortunately, thanks to Leterrier, whose Transporter flicks with Jason Statham are a master class in how to shoot and choreograph fast paced butt-kicking with pinpoint precision, the action definitely moves. It’s just a shame that his direction can’t compensate for the weak overall story/script (credited to 5 different people) which clearly would’ve benefited from a touch of The Four Horseman’s magic. Instead, character motivation, unifying structure, and plausibility are all completely sacrificed in a desperate attempt to provide specific pay-offs like a Usual Suspects/The Sixth Sense “shocking final twist”.

It’s a wonder that the filmmakers were able to attract such a high caliber list of actors not usually known for their fluff work, but I must say, good thing they did. From Freeman to Caine to Harrelson to Fisher, the entire cast turns on the the mega-watt charm in roles that require little more than peppering the scenery and delivering plot-moving dialogue. Ruffalo and Laurent are the only ones given anything to work with, and while he struggles with the ridiculously hoaky demands of his part, the gorgeously expressive French actress most famous for burning down the house in Tarantino’s Inglorious Basterds, manages to pull off the film’s only layered performance.

Whether or not you believe that magic in all of its various incarnations is real, there is something to be said about the idea that not everything in this world can be explained logically. Sometimes, it really is best not to examine things too closely or overthink them; to instead just hop on the roller-coaster, and let it take you for a ride. If you hope to enjoy Now You See Me in all of its hollow splendor, and it certainly is possible to do so, I highly recommend that you heed the advice of one Mr. J. Daniel Atlas, and actively employ this technique.