‘Now You See Me’ Review: A Magic-Themed Heist Movie With Maybe Too Much Up Its Sleeve


Suspension of disbelief gets a workout as this caper starts pulling third-act twists out of its hat

Ticketholders for both magic shows and caper movies are required to engage in a certain suspension of disbelief, so that they might enjoy the wonders unfolding before them without ruining things by asking too many questions.

“Now You See Me,” a heist film peppered with onstage legerdemain, will test the limits of your willingness to go with the flow. The explanations behind the bank robberies defy logic, granted — but at least they’re explanations.

The plot, on the other hand, takes a corkscrew spin that may or may not fling you out of the theater.

A quartet of magicians — a disgraced hypnotist (played by Woody Harrelson), a smug street illusionist (Jesse Eisenberg), an escape artist (Isla Fisher) and a pickpocket and lock-picker (Dave Franco) — are recruited by an anonymous benefactor to become the Four Horsemen, a glitzy and high-tech magic act that packs the big room at Las Vegas’ MGM Grand for one night only.

(I don’t include the characters’ names because, frankly, the movie doesn’t care about them; you won’t know any more about them in the last scene than you do in the first.)

Their Vegas show involves teleporting an audience member into a French bank vault, getting away with 30 million Euros, and showering the bills onto their audience. This attracts the attention of an FBI agent (Mark Ruffalo) and a French sidekick (Mélanie Laurent of “Inglourious Basterds”) assigned to him by INTERPOL.

But as Eisenberg (reprising his cleverer-than-thou bit from “The Social Network”) tells Ruffalo, to accuse them of the crime would be to acknowledge that magic exists.

Also tagging along for two more performances-turned-heists are the magicians’ wealthy producer (Michael Caine) as well as a professional magic-debunker (Morgan Freeman) out to expose the Horsemen as phonies.

Director Louis Leterrier (“The Transporter,” the “Clash of the Titans” remake), working from a script by Ed Solomon, Boaz Yakin and Edward Ricourt, makes the first half of the movie pop, no mean feat when dealing with the essential paradox of magic on film – thanks to the most basic of special effects, going all the way back to Georges Méliès, anyone in a movie can do magic, so there’s no inherent thrill of seeing illusions, even ones that are exciting on stage, on the big screen.

There’s an inclination to forgive these stock characters since all of these actors are capable of lifting them to a higher plane, but “Now You See Me” gets so enraptured in its double-twists and reversals that it doesn’t give any of its cast members the time or space required to create something memorable out of the material.

What starts out as an engaging B-movie, one that tricks you and then shows you how it tricked you, sadly degenerates into an overly complicated mess with one or two twists too many. You can feel the energy leak out of this overlong (115 minutes) movie somewhere around the big car chase through Manhattan, and then “Now You See Me” wraps things up with a whammy of a plot twist that’s momentarily unexpected but doesn’t, upon any kind of reflection, pass the sniff test.

And if you’re OK with the film playing you for a sap, you’ll laugh and clap and wonder how that bird got into that hat. But if you think there’s a difference between being tricked and being cheated, you may feel swindled.

  • Real Viewer

    These critics take themselves way too seriously. Good movie. Enjoyed it.

    • S Thomas

      No, they have an opinion and they explain it whereas you have only an opinion with no substance.

  • Nc

    Gotta say the critic hits it on the head, 1st 50-60% was great, but then this movie twisted itself into knots.. Final ‘twist’,?? please…

  • Lourod

    Great movie.. Haters gonna hate!

  • Matt A

    A huge problem I had with the film – thanks to run-away CGI – is that magic *does* seem to exist in the universe, nullifying the thrill of any trick that is performed. For example, the key in the Coke can, the mind reading, the on-touch instant hypnosis – none of that would be remotely possible.

    People realize magic isn’t real, so the draw behind magic shows are the moments when you see a trick so unbelievable that you’re forced to conclude that the magician is truly a master of his craft – NOT that it’s magic. It’s about appreciation and a chance to compete with the mind of the magician.

    In this movie, it’s just actual magic behind a lot of the stunts. Did anyone else catch that Eisenberg’s character basically says it would be ridiculous to believe in magic (since clearly he is a super-skilled street magician)?



    So much of it is just so ridiculously improbable. The final twist… how the hell does someone get into that position after all those background tests? When did he have time to assist the Four Horsemen.

    What about all those scenes where you see Ruffalo’s character looking defeated… while he’s *alone*. To pull that twist out of the blue like that was absurd.

    By the way, how is the “great revenge” moment (the framing) in any way a morally ethical thing to do? That’s like saying a guy at a sandwich shop is guilty of manslaughter for taking too long to make a sandwich and, in doing so, holding up a customer an extra few minutes – resulting in him getting hit by a car as he steps out the door. “God damn it sandwich guy, if you had only made that sandwich faster, my father would still be here! I’m gonna make sure you rot in a cell for the rest of your life.”

    Except if this were in Now You See Me, the dead customer’s son would frame the sandwich guy and never explain his reasoning. Sandwich guy would just sit there in jail wondering why he got screwed by life.

    This movie was only a super shallow plot, one-dimensional characters, CGI & action scenes, and twists that come out of left field. Ugh.

  • Billy Hann

    Always loved magic. Magicians fascinate me and it’s what got me into (my favorite franchise both movies and books) Harry Potter when I was a kid. Most critics complaints with this movie seem to be that the magic is CGI. Oh a bunch of actors with no experience in illusion have to rely on CGI for their magic tricks/illusions? Ya don’t say. The movie was thoroughly enjoyable for me and I HATE modern cinema. The last movie I was excited for was Wolverine which was no X1-X3 but fun none the less. Can someone tell me the name of that website where average people leave their own scores so I can at least contribute even a tiny bit towards this movies well deserved 5/5 star score? (5/5 stars for keeping me entertained in a world where modern movies are in no way exciting, interesting or enjoyable in anyway to me until I saw this original idea and regained some faith in movies.)