Thursday, May 30, 2013

Now You See Me Review: It's Like Trying To Tell a Stranger 'Bout Rock n' Roll

"I wanna show you a magic trick, yeah I promise it's sick like whoa-oh-oh-oh."

[That was an excerpt from the Ke$ha hit "Booty Call." The following has more to do with a movie.]

"Look closely. Because the closer you think you are, the less you actually see."

Holy crap, I am so tired of this gosh darn quote. It's one the new film Now You See Me came up with all by its big boy self, and it wants you to put it in your high school yearbook. The quote references slight-of-hand, or, more applicable here, magic tricks. However, after a good old watchy-watch, I'm not entirely sure if Now You See Me pulls off its tricks the way it intended.

Now You See Me revolves around The Four Horsemen - not of the apocalypse or an all-male equestrian squad, but a group of street magicians brought together under unusual circumstances. Jesse Eisenberg, Isla Fisher, Woody Harrelson, and Dave Franco conduct elaborate stage shows involving CGI bubbles, rabbits in boxes, and heists where the Horsemen don't keep a cent. Did that last one catch your attention? Well it sure did for Mark Ruffalo's offensively incompetent FBI agent and Morgan Freeman's hat-toting magician-turned-skeptic. Thus begins a long and winding tale of deception and trickery. Also, Morgan Freeman's face freckles. But I guess if you're going to disprove magicians, you need some sort of mask, like that guy in those videos I watched in freshman history class.

Ladies and gentlemen, with nothing up my sleeve, I give you...a public school education.
Looking back on it, the film's a friggin' mess. The plot goes all over the place and never wants to slow down; there were a couple points where I just wanted to take a breath and go over what just happened. While some might find the movie's pace refreshing, others will notice how exhausting the breakneck speed gets after about half an hour. Now You See Me also lacks a protagonist. With such an impressive cast, no one's that intent on stepping off to the side to let one person have all the fun. At first it seems as if we should support the Horsemen, but then the focus shifts to the FBI and Interpol, and then kind of Morgan Freeman but not really, and back to the Horsemen. The logical choice would've been to have Franco's inexperienced amateur magician be the springboard for the audience, but instead we were only treated to glimpses of that goofy smile.

He needs to get out of his brother's marijuana-scented shadow sometime.
Now You See Me also suffers from some pretty hideous CGI. Littered throughout the movie are scenes way too dependent on computer imagery that cheapen the experience. Had the filmmakers graced these moments with more practical effects, the film's more down-to-earth trick scenes could've felt that much more impressive. Speaking of down-to-earth, the movie is too quick to delve into the weird and fantastical. While the teleportation trick teased in the trailers is aptly explained, we still see holograms and bright lights that feel very out of place.

Weirdly enough, despite all its flaws (and it has many flaws), I rather enjoyed Now You See Me. It's a very entertaining film, and scenes like the introduction and Franco's fight with Mark Ruffalo stand out pretty memorably. The dialogue can be sharp, even if the characters feel less like they're playing off each other and more like they all want to do their own thing. Now You See Me feels as if it was written with magic tricks in mind. Setups given at one point lead to payoffs several scenes later that feel well-deserved, and trying to follow every possible nod in the present that might lead to a reveal in the future can get pretty fun.

In the end, someone could throw Now You See Me's awful quote back in its face. At times, the films thinks it's so close to executing twists and throwing off the audience that it fails to notice the big picture. The movie has a tendency to be so myopic for turns in the plot that it blinds itself to the mess it makes in the process. However, if you can turn a blind eye to the many sins it commits, Now You See Me can be pretty enjoyable.

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