So my wife and I saw Now You See Me last week… and I’m still thinking about it. Oh no, not because it was thought provoking, almost the polar opposite. I think I was noodling what exactly it was that bothered me about it, and I think I have it.
This movie is the perfect vehicle to show why FYMPlanet is necessary. There are so many people like Pete Hammond, from Movieline, who think that this movie was “highly entertaining, extremely clever & and thrilling to watch”, but he’s wrong, wrong, wrong. Thankfully, Rottentomatoes, which does a reasonably good job calling out the stink bombs, gives this movie a 46%, which it deserves.
I don’t blame Pete Hammond, who will be a stand-in for everyone who doesn’t really know what “highly entertaining” and “extremely clever” actually are. What this movie actually IS is a Hollywood ATTEMPT at being those things without actually crossing the threshold. With such an entertaining/talented cast (Dave Franco and Mark Ruffalo excluded), there was an opportunity to make something special.
Jesse Eisenberg does a great job playing a supposedly smart, pompous, slightly annoying, <insert any past role here> magician. The more we learn about the actor the more this is clearly less due to his acting ability and more just freebasing what is already there. Woody Harrelson is the most interesting of the bunch, playing a talented, but seedy mentalist. However, his power over people is showcased in a way that makes it unlikely he would ever be “down on his luck” or unsuccessful – he can literally make people say or do anything he wants. With this super power, there are probably much more interesting ways he could be spending his time than faux dodging the FBI in pursuit of membership in some second rate Magic Mason cult. Isla Fisher is always fun to watch but her character bio is about as shallow as the Houdini tank she jumps in in one of the opening scenes.
Oh right, Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine are also in this film, proving that old male actors can still get a substantial paycheck for doing basically nothing. Also there is a French girl, who neither represents Europe or Interpol well. I should have auditioned my 3 year old daughter for how much intelligence and real world experience the character brings to the table. The first 10 minutes of the movie hints at greater things through its brief, almost intriguing, character introductions/background sketches. But like a street artist, the sketch is all there is and it culminates in a silly but admittedly creative bank heist. If the movie ended there, I actually would have been intrigued and wanted more… but then there actually WAS more.
What follows is so silly and unbelievably orchestrated that all the suspense and enigma of the puppeteer behind the scenes is lost. There is never a sense of danger or reality to the proceedings. The plot is just a vehicle for the writers to try to show how clever they are. The protagonists lose all of their humanity and just become avatars to this end. The twist at the end, which I THINK was trying to recall much better movies like “the prestige” had none of the weight or consequence of that movie. It was so yawn worthy and unbelievable that my brain wanted to self-destruct – it’s possible it did and this one is a loaner.
You may ask, what did I expect? And, true, I didn’t expect a lot. I still enjoyed the experience because I was spending time with my lovely wife, but that makes the movie irrelevant. What this movie tells me is that there is still a significant number of people in Hollywood and elsewhere who don’t know what “highly entertaining” and “clever” really are. If you must constantly state how funny or witty you are, you probably aren’t. This should be a rule in film and life. In the season finale of Game of Thrones, Tywin Lannister scolds his nephew in much the same way. A real king shouldn’t have to remind everyone else of the fact.
Don’t waste your time watching this movie unless it is just a means to another end. Watch the Prestige ( not the Illusionist) instead. It’s got its flaws, but there are some real questions about magic, humanity, and commitment that make it worth the trip.
Good luck out there!