Mark Metcalf

“Now You See Me” short on movie magic

While the cast of actors is astounding, director Louis Leterrier isn't on the same level, dragging down the film with dull special effects.

By - Jun 2nd, 2013 04:00 am
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I love magic. I go absolutely 8-year-old and gaga whenever someone, anyone says, “Pick a card, any card …”. Close-up magic is my favorite, but Penn and Teller used to amaze me, thrill me, chill me and terrify me. I’ve never seen David Copperfield live and when I see the big illusions on television I always suspect camera trickery. But give me a card or coin trick where I can watch the illusionist – I believe they prefer that to magician – watch their hands, their eyes, peek around them and behind them, look up their sleeve and smell them sweat, give me one of those and I’ll say “Wow” and stay slack-jawed all night long.

Given that and the fact that Jesse Eisenberg, Mark Ruffalo, Isla Fisher, Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine and Woody Harrelson are starring in it, three of my favorite young actors and three of my favorite older actors, I was all set to get over-excited and jump up and down over Now You See Me, a heist-style flick featuring a team of illusionists whose latest trick is a Robin Hood-style spree that steals money from corrupt businessmen and redistributes it to their audiences.

Well, I won’t be able to do that. The performances are all very good. Eisenberg’s nervous, fast talking, super intelligent persona, which worked so well in The Social Network, works well here, too. But here he is also able to be funny and intimate. He draws us in, as a master close-up magician must do. He must become your most trusted friend even though you know he’s picking your pocket.

Ruffalo is great. He brings such heart and passion to all his work you feel like you’ll go anywhere with him. His version of The Hulk in The Avengers was the most soulful big guy among the many – maybe too many – incarnations of that character.

Isla Fisher is under-utilized here. She is beautiful, smart and fun – this generation’s Jean Arthur – and capable of an intimacy and vulnerability that the script and the director do not even try to get near. Harrelson is snippy and snappy as only he can be. Freeman is Freeman. Caine is … well, Michael Caine has been doing it for so long and done it so much and he never takes it easy; he always gets deeply into it, feels it and gives it all, and, even when he goes a little too far, as he does here, it’s still Michael Caine and worth watching.

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But – and you knew there would a but – the director, Louis Leterrier, is not up to the kind of intimacy and subtlety that these actors are capable of and that a movie with magic in the middle requires. Leterrier has directed some very good B movies – fight movies, fast, action-packed, adrenaline junky, highly caffeinated Jason Statham movies. But such movies, with the special effects and 3D that they are doing these days, are like a giant, expensive magic shows with fantastic illusions. Once you’ve seen a city you lived and loved in crumble to dust, or a monument you’ve meditated in be destroyed by an asteroid and known it is movie magic, watching a man disappear before your very eyes in Now You See Me is no big deal. But it needs to be in order for you to be really caught up in and transported by the film.  The real visceral feeling of, “How the heck did they do that?” isn’t there, even though that is what the movie is all about.

Now You See Me opened Friday at theaters all over the place.

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