Saturday, June 22, 2013

Multi Paragraph Movie Review: Now You See Me

If you don't have plans to see this movie, you can check the spoilers here and then come back.

Seeing the cool premise for Now You See Me--it's a heist movie but with magicians--and the hugely talented cast, it seemed to me like this was an easy slam dunk. It did pretty well in its first week at the box office and got mixed to good reviews, but then faded pretty fast and people seemed to stop talking about it. The first point can be explained away by summer movie season, but the fact that there wasn't more buzz made me feel like there had to be something else going on here, some fatal flaws preventing it from being a critical hit. Having seen it, it was a fun, fast moving flick with an army of great actors and some truly brilliant action sequences, but no question there was a much better movie that could have been made. Speaking first to that cast, there isn't a weak link the bunch, as you've got Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Mark Ruffalo, Isla Fisher, Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman all bringing the goods plus lesser-knowns like Melanie Laurent and Dave Franco delivering on the promise they've shown elsewhere. I had my doubts initially whether Eisenberg could pull off arrogant ladies man, but he found a way to not so much disguise or lose the socially awkward charm he generally displays as much as redirect it. Ruffalo gets saddled with arguably the weakest character, the bumbling FBI goober who seems to exist only to make the magicians look more clever, but he manages to make the routine entertaining, if a bit tired. Of course there's a joy to watching Caine and Freeman face off, and I do appreciate that director Louis Leterrier or somebody recognized the simple but brilliant idea of "Oh, Morgan Freeman is in our movie, we should have him do a voice over at some point."

The primary problem for me with Now You See Me is that after the first 15 minutes of introducing Eisenberg, Harrelson, Fisher and Franco's wonderfully compelling quartet of magical thieves, we get a year-time jump and they disappear like the proverbial bunny for three quarters of the screen time while the Ruffalo-led FBI team gets the lion's share of the attention. Ruffalo is game, as mentioned, and Laurent as his believer partner is winning, but their chemistry is only so so, and even at their best they can't distract me that I'd rather be seeing more of Eisenberg and Fisher's dynamic--they're former magician and assistant with underlying sexual tension--or Harrelson being quirky or Franco finding ways to use magic tricks as weapons in awesome fight scenes. On its own, this Mark Ruffalo FBI movie would be whatever, but it becomes almost irritating when you teased me with something much more tantalizing and then moved it just off to the side for nearly two hours.

I would imagine a lot of people also have trouble with the ending, which its hard to get too into without spoilers, but needless to say as you'd expect from a movie about sleight of hand, it's a big twist. I didn't see it coming, which is a good thing, but one the other hand, that's because it requires the audience to discard a lot of what they just watched quickly and without much explanation. If they went through Ocean's 11 styles and explained all the motivation and machinery, I think it could have won a lot of goodwill, but it feels like they start that and then cut it off with some hasty lines, maybe saving it for a potential sequel. There are a lot logic gaps I can surmise solutions to, but they should be right out the screen.

I can't really complain, because I don't think I was bored during too many of Now You Can See Me's 115 minutes and found the majority of them to be entertaining, but I do mourn a bit for the superior film that died somewhere along the way; that one could have been a real classic.