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Now You See Me: Nothing up its sleeve 

Rating: **

NOW YOU SEE ME
**
DIRECTED BY Louis Leterrier
STARS Jesse Eisenberg, Mark Ruffalo

STAGE PRESENCE: The Four Horsemen (Isla Fisher, Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson and Dave Franco) entertain the audience in Now You See Me. (Photo: Summit Entertainment)
  • STAGE PRESENCE: The Four Horsemen (Isla Fisher, Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson and Dave Franco) entertain the audience in Now You See Me. (Photo: Summit Entertainment)

I daresay that making the entire Grand Canyon disappear would be an easier feat of magic than trying to whip the screenplay for Now You See Me into something remotely logical. The theme of the movie is misdirection — the magician's practice of making audiences focus on something while the real trick is taking place away from the center of attention — and that notion has seeped into every aspect of the production. A terrific cast, a promising trailer, a zippy pace, glitzy locales — all of that is merely meant to distract us from noticing that the movie itself is nothing more than an empty spectacle hopelessly riddled with gaping plotholes, narrative coincidences and a final twist that couldn't have been more preposterous had it revealed that Chewbacca was actually Luke's father.

For a while, the film delivers on its promise of a good time. Four magicians of differing popularity perform acts of magic, either for the amusement of audiences or for themselves. J. Daniel Atlas (Jesse Eisenberg) is the most successful of the bunch, first seen showing off his skills with a nifty card trick. Then there's Henley Reeves (Isla Fisher), whose act involves being dumped into a tank of piranha. Merritt McKinney (Woody Harrelson) is largely a has-been, a mentalist who now employs his skill to bilk money out of folks with unsavory secrets. At the bottom is Jack Wilder (Dave Franco), the rookie who's still performing con jobs at street level. All four accept the invitation of an unknown person to gather at a certain location; cut to a year later, and we now see that the quartet has formed a world-class outfit known as the Four Horsemen, playing to massive audiences under the sponsorship of the wealthy Arthur Tressler (Michael Caine in a role that makes absolutely no sense). Their gig in Las Vegas is a doozy: They teleport a Frenchman to his bank in Paris and return him with a vaultful of Euros in tow, all of which are rained down upon the crowd. This Robin Hood act doesn't sit well with Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo), an FBI agent who doesn't like to see anybody fleeced. Forced to team up with an Interpol agent named Alma Dray (Mélanie Laurent), he works hard to not only nab the team but also debunk their tricks — to help him with the latter, he turns to Thaddeus Bradley (Morgan Freeman), a former magician who has made a name for himself exposing trade secrets.

Mark Ruffalo and Mélanie Laurent
  • Mark Ruffalo and Mélanie Laurent

The opening portion of Now You See Me works so well because it focuses exclusively on the four tricksters, who are all interesting characters whether working alone or sharing the screen. The Vegas show and its aftermath are also riveting, as Thaddeus patiently explains the act to a frustrated Rhodes. But after this point, the screenplay by Ed Solomon, Boaz Yakin and Edward Ricourt spirals wildly out of control, with the emphasis taking a hard right away from its intriguing angle and settling into a more standard cat-and-mouse pursuit, one that's capped by an endless car chase filled with inconsistencies and illogical diversions. Indeed, the ludicrous nature of this sequence is representative of much of the film. Working under director Louis Leterrier (the Clash of the Titans remake), the writers go beyond forgetting to dot their i's and cross their t's — their script is ofttimes so sloppily constructed that it's the equivalent of also leaving off periods and confusing your and you're. This is one of those films where the plot can only progress if characters perform a specific act at a specific time, or where one unanticipated reaction from a peripheral character (say, the agent played by Michael J. Kelly) would unravel all the plans, or where one component of the master scheme has a 50-50 chance of killing innocent people (that would shift audience allegiance in a hurry, wouldn't it?). It all culminates with the unmasking of the person who brought together the Four Horsemen — whether you guessed it or not, it leads to a mental replaying of the movie that makes it even more daft and gaffe-riddled.

To add to the stuffing, there are also discussions of the Eye of Horus, a real-life symbol from ancient Egypt. It's clumsily interjected into the proceedings, but while it's perhaps meant to be a Hitchcockian MacGuffin, it's more like a McNugget, adding little nutrition or value to a disappointing movie whose promise vanishes as quickly as the assistant in the box.

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