Critics declared "Now You See Me," a new thriller about a group of illusionists teaming up to pull off the perfect heists, a less than magical trip to the movies.
The Summit/Lionsgate caper flick has picked up strong social media buzz this week, but tepid reviews in advance of its Friday debut. "Now You See Me" scored a mediocre 44 percent "rotten" rating on the critics aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, which may not put it in contention for the Criterion Collection, but is substantially better than the 13 percent "rotten" ranking ascribed to its main box office rival, "After Earth."
Reviewers faulted "Now You See Me"s' scattershot plotting, but did praise the performances of a cast that includes Jesse Eisenberg, Michael Caine, Woody Harrelson, Mark Ruffalo, Dave Franco, Isla Fisher and Morgan Freeman.
Gary Goldstein of the Los Angeles Times groused that the film suffered from too much narrative sleight-of-hand and a preposterous finale, although he praised director Louis Leterrier for employing a propulsive touch that kept things moving.
"Instead of the movie ending at a point of relative reason, it sprouts a kind of extra third act that twists and spins the already elaborate plot into the ozone," Goldstein wrote. "While the film's final surprise may provide a catharsis of sorts from all the preceding mayhem, it opens a whole new can of questions best left unexamined."
Peter Howell of the Toronto Star also had difficulty buying the on-screen trickery, writing that the true ace up the illusionists' sleeves was pure-luck.
"Credulity fails even when Leterrier and screenwriters Ed Solomon, Boaz Yakin and Edward Ricourt later on show us the laborious step-by-step of the stunt, which requires far too much coincidence, effort and expense to be even remotely plausible," Howell wrote.
For his part, The New York Times' Stephen Holden wished that the film had stuck with the Vegas act and jettisoned the chase sequences that eat up the second act of "Now You See Me."
"The prelude to the group’s farewell performance is an elaborately staged, overlong, meaningless car crash on the Franklin D. Roosevelt Drive," Holden wrote. "Long before the story culminates with a preposterous final revelation, whatever hopes you had that “Now You See Me” might have had anything to say about the profession of magic, rampant greed or anything else have been dashed."
Stephanie Merry acknowledged in her Washington Post review that not all of the narrative threads come together, but praised the film's witty banter and breezy tone.
"Regardless of how or why we got here, it’s at least fun to watch," Merry wrote.
It's celluloid junk food that's utterly devoid of substance, Entertainment Weekly's Owen Gleiberman implied, but that doesn't mean it doesn't taste good.
"At times, 'Now You See Me' suggests Christopher Nolan's The Prestige made with a throwaway wink," Gleiberman wrote. "The actors, including Morgan Freeman as an anti-showman devoted to revealing the magicians' secrets, look like they're having so much fun that you can forgive the periodic arbitrariness of it all."