Thursday, June 6, 2013

Review: "Now You See Me"

The belief in magic is, I imagine, looked down upon by many. If you're a child, the tricks performed by illusionists are puzzling, intriguing and entertaining. To be completely fooled as a kid is ok. Once you reach a certain age, it's assumed that you've matured a bit. You understand the truth about Santa, accept that Pro Wrestling is a show, and hopefully, appreciate magic on the showmanship level only.

In Now You See Me, a magician actually points out the foolishness of charging him with a particular crime. To do so would be admitting that magic is "real". Another character accepts that what she sees are just tricks, but enjoys the feeling she gets from them. She speaks of having a little faith in the unbelievable, and being a more tolerable person because of it. A professional trickster that calls you stupid for thinking what he does is real and an adult woman who just goes along with the tricks despite knowing that they're just tricks. What was it that Obi Wan Kenobi said about fools?

The crime I mentioned above was part of a Las Vegas stage performance. Calling themselves The Four Horsemen, these four (of course) showmen play out a trick where they transport a man to a European bank, and have him rob a safe. The FBI and Interpol investigate, but are always just a few steps behind this crew. Are they modern day Robin Hoods, or is there something more to their act?

Well, that something more is the trick (or twist) the movie has up its sleeve. A very short sleeve. I don't mean that the finale is easy and cheap but that the whole story is. The way the tricks unfold are implausible and kinda dumb for a popular magic act to achieve. They go to lengths like hypnotizing a man days in advance, switching out real money with flash paper and guessing that an entire audience were victims of an insurance company. Sure, I get it that the performances are just a cover for what they're "really" doing, but what they're "really" doing is "really" not clever. 

Jesse Eisenberg plays one of the Four Horsemen, in what I would call the best acting of the movie (the neurotic tendencies I would expect from him are swapped for confidence and flash). He regularly says that the closer you look, the easier it is to trick you. When a character is seemingly trapped in a car chase on a bridge, we see how the crew pulled off his escape. And it's something straight out of the Fast & Furious mentality. What worked in a movie that could care less about smarts, doesn't work in a movie that depends on you believing it's smart.

This must be similar to the problems people have with the new Star Trek movies. Every personality and theme from the original shows and films are heightened to almost extreme lengths. Whatever subtlety there used to be is gone. Nothing is subtle about Now You See Me, which would be ok (it IS a movie about flashy stage performers pulling off heists) if the tricks played out in and by the story hadn't been delivered in a Happy Meal. 

Now I remember; "Who's the more foolish, the fool, or the fool who follows him?" Fun razzle dazzle is fine and all, but only if you don't ask questions. When I was a kid, I hardly ever accepted something without being a little inquisitive. And you know what? I grew up to like movies ranging from the thoughtful to the silly. You CAN have fun while being mature. No need to be a Toys R Us kid forever.

2/5 *s

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