It must be hard to portray the art of being a magician on the big screen. The latest effort is The Transporter, The Incredible Hulk, and Clash of the Titans’ director Louis Leterrier’s Now You See Me previewed earlier at borg.com here. It has much to offer by way of entertainment, the best reward being the cast, which manages to nail that very Las Vegas magic act schtick of “showmanship” that you only see in a good magic act. But can you give a theatrical audience a convincing magic show–actually trick us and surprise us in the same way someone like David Copperfield can make the Statue of Liberty disappear right in front of you, or how Teller distracts as Penn causes the very thing you’re staring at to disappear right before you?
Apparently you can’t do that in the movies–or at least no one has dazzled us in that way yet. But you can at least give us a good show letting us see different styles in which magicians practice their art.
Two recent contenders for the top of the “movies about magicians and magic” list are not at risk of leaving the top because of Now You See Me. The Illusionist, starring Edward Norton, Paul Giamatti, Jessica Biel, Rufus Sewell, Eddie Marsan, and Aaron Taylor-Johnson, and The Prestige, starring Christian Bale, Hugh Jackman, Michael Caine, and Scarlett Johansson released opposite each other in 2006, take on the same themes. But if you’re deciding between the two we think The Illusionist, from director Neil Burger (Limitless, Divergent) is the better film, over the very typically over-the-top effort by Christopher Nolan (The Dark Knight Trilogy, Man of Steel, Inception) in The Prestige. It’s the payoff of Now You See Me that doesn’t quite cut it, despite some fun theatrics along the way.
The cast and the casting of roles make Now You See Me fun to go along for the ride, even if the story’s payoff isn’t that satisfying. Woody Harrelson (No Country for Old Men, The People vs. Larry Flynt, The Hunger Games) pulls off his role as elder magician in a squad of four magicians who pull off a heist in full view of a crowd of thousands–like no role he has played before. He’s likeable, cocky, and convincing. Isla Fisher (Wedding Crashers, The Great Gatsby) commands the audience’s attention with that stage presence the magician needs to wow the crowd. Dave Franco (21 Jump Street) is perfect as the new magician on the block, sporting that same level of charisma that keeps us going back to see movies by his brother James. And it’s hard to cast annoying better than Jesse Eisenberg (Adventureland, The Social Network, and soon to be Lex Luthor in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice) as the arrogant jerk of the quartet.
Behind this magic act is a cast of leading actors that indicate quite clearly that a drove of agents thought this flick was going to be a winner. The Prestige’s Michael Caine lends authority to the film as the money man behind the show, along with Morgan Freeman, a retired magician trying to debunk the act. Melanie Laurent (Inglourious Basterds) and Mark Ruffalo (Zodiac, The Avengers) are dueling Interpol and FBI agents who capture most of the screen time (explaining the real story behind a secret magic organization like something from National Treasure) that spins the plot forward.
Audiences have generally supported the film, at least by way of box office receipts, so much so that Now You See Me: The Second Act, directed by Jon M. Chu, is right around the corner. That sequel has a release date of June 10, 2016, and will star Daniel Radcliffe (Harry Potter, The Woman in Black), Lizzy Caplan (Cloverfield, Hot Tub Time Machine), and returning cast Ruffalo, Eisenberg, Harrelson, Franco, and Caine.
Now You See Me is now streaming on several services, including Google Plus, and it’s available on Blu-ray and DVD here at Amazon.com.